World Cup Round-Up: Chewing it over
Unless you’re old enough to remember football before the 1990 World Cup semi-final, the impenetrable assurance and efficiency of the German national team will have been just history to you until last night - a reference point of the past like Brazil in 1970, Hungary during the fifties and the total footballing Netherlands side of the seventies.
That’s not to say they haven’t achieved since a broken Gary Lineker offered his somewhat backhanded compliment after England capitulated to West Germany in that semi-final penalty shootout, but they’ve arguably lacked the cohesion and ruthlessness required to carry them through the seven games required to win a World Cup since that time.
The fact that it was the 5-1 defeat to England in 2001 that contributed to the decision to rethink their strategy is even more ironic now, given that they won this tournament at a canter while the Three Lions have been on the beach for two weeks.
Is anyone ready to have that conversation yet? No? Ok.
Let’s concentrate on the positives instead, shall we?
There were so many highlights in this competition it would be impossible to list them all, but now the clouds of gas emanating from British pundits and summarisers has finally cleared we can see that Germany were easily the best team of the tournament.
From Neuer’s control of his penalty area and beyond to Muller’s GPS-like accuracy when it comes to popping up in the box, they are a team in the traditional sense of the term.
They had their stand out players but the strength in depth to perform even when they weren’t firing. They tested the referee without invoking his wrath. They had self-belief in buckets but even when they battered the host nation 7-1 in their own backyard they managed to do so without hubris. They didn’t fall apart when one of the best players in that game, Sami Khedira, was injured in the warm-up, forcing a last minute change.
And when the moment finally arrived, so typically in the dying minutes of extra time, a twenty-two year old came off the bench with the words “show them you’re better than Messi and can decide the World Cup,” ringing in his ears and did.
The Little Maestro himself, winner of four Ballon D’ors, breaker of so many records it’s actually a record itself (probably), could only dream of such composure in front of goal.
It was a fitting end to a tournament that offers plenty for historians to chew over, not least the dismissal of a forward for biting a defender. The end of a football dynasty. A crushing, humiliating defeat for a country who took a game and made it beautiful. A terrifying, gigantic insect attaching itself to a penalty taker. Fred.
And while they’re doing that, we’ll be concentrating on adjusting to a life that doesn’t include three football matches per day and the knowledge that even when that joy does return, we’ll all be four years older, four years fatter and four years further away from representing our country at the highest level of football.
On the plus side, at least Rihanna will be too old for ligging at football matches. Hopefully.
By Kelly Welles
World Cup Round-Up: Ain’t that a kick in the head?
If ever there was a game in need of the Football Ramble’s guide to improving football, this was it.
The eight goal thriller of the previous evening loomed large over Netherlands vs. Argentina. Couple that will well drilled players knowing exactly who the other team’s key men were and stifling them accordingly and it becomes obvious that this was always going to be a tight, attritional game that set foot on the slippery slope towards penalties in the first half and rarely looked willing or able to step off.
So, having sat through ninety minutes of turgid footie, a further thirty minutes of extra time and a penalty shoot out are you seriously telling me a twelve foot pit full of water behind the goal line or electrodes in players boots programmed to issue electric shocks at a manager’s whim wouldn’t have improved this as a viewing experience?
Confident, isn’t he?
There was the odd stand out moment. Net puppy Jasper Cillessen attempting to prove van Gaal was a fool to take him off last time round (he wasn’t) by chucking in not one, but two drag backs as terrifying Argentinian goalscorers bore down upon him at speed.
The opportunity to debate once again exactly what evolutionary factors were in play when South American blokes developed skulls seemingly impervious to kicking.
Not to mention Arjen Robben’s stoicism as he turned away from his wife and howling, disconsolate son after approaching them in the stands.
What? You wanted proper football related highlights? Did you see the game?
By Kelly Welles
Clint Dempsey: You’ve got what in your pocket?
Lionel Messi & Louis van Gaal: New balls, please!
World Cup Round-Up: Embarrass ‘em!
There was a point where it did get a bit embarrassing.
In the brief moment between the third and fourth goals maybe, when an almost imperceptible wave of realisation seemed to wash over the German players and for a second they understood the magnitude of what they were doing, and more importantly, what they could do.
The founders of o jogo bonito playing in their first World Cup on home soil since 1950.
A seemingly unbreakable bond between each other and their supporters, forged to drive them to glory despite the loss of their captain and their talismanic striker.
The romance and joy that would transcend football and lift a troubled nation.
Crushed beneath the might of a German side with a job to do.
♫ 7-1, even Sami scored, 7-1, even Sami scored ♫
It wasn’t the scoreline, although that was catastrophic enough. It wasn’t even the manner of the defeat or the ease with which the Germans shifted the ball around the broken Brazilians - whose faces reflected the disbelief, heartbreak and humiliation - and smashed it into the net time and time again.
It was the message.
The beautiful game isn’t yours any more. You might have given birth to it, nurtured it and cared for it for all this time but now it’s out there in the world and can choose to live with whoever wants it the most.
Luiz Felipe Scolari called it “The worst day of my life.”
Until he loses an FA Cup third round fixture to Rochdale, we can’t test the veracity of that statement, but we’ll hazard a guess that he’s feeling worse than our beloved Brian McDermott right now.
And for some considerable time to come.
By Kelly Welles
New sheason, new shirts, shorts & shinnies
Having not wasted £90 on an England shirt, you should be perfectly positioned to cough up for some club apparel to celebrate the new domestic season.
Fortunately for you, kit manufacturers know this and have taken the opportunity to flood the market with exciting new footie wear in the hope that you’ll ignore your other half’s pleas for financial sanity and insistence that a fifth shirt in two years is not necessary.
Here are some of the items you could be wearing to your local pub’s singles night in just a few weeks time.
Manchester United (2014/15 home shirt)
It’s red and black, the launch video emphasised strong links to the local area as well as the importance of tradition at the club.
Which is presumably why they chose an American car company who’ve just pulled out of Europe due to poor market share to sponsor them.
Inter Milan (2014/15 home shirt)
While the internet was busy speculating about how many refreshments the Inter Milan decision makers had had before writing this press release about amendments to the club badge, they sneaked this new home shirt out.
Are they hoping the hardcore don’t notice that a new pinstripe look has replaced the iconic stripes or is this simply a matter of keeping up with the noisy neighbours?
On the plus side, it’ll go beautifully with a work suit.
Everton (2014/15 home shirt)
Not being fashion aficionados in any sense of the term, we have no clue whether the narrow stripe is en vogue on the catwalks of Paris and London. It does appear to be de rigeur among kit manufacturers though, with Umbro being the latest to experiment.
The new Everton home shirt boasts not just any old stripe, though. What you see here is a “textured micro shadow stripe”, which along with navy grandad collar and dropped hem make one of the cleanest footie blouses we’ve seen in a long while.
It comes with a free stick on pencil moustache and hipster sideys too. And if it doesn’t, it should.
Liverpool (2014/15 third kit)
There’s no such thing as bad publicity. Warrior tested this theory fully with their first go at Liverpool’s third kit, but fans will be relieved to see that the American manufacturer has taken a less migraine inducing approach with this season’s effort.
Admittedly it’s not perfect. There’s a sash - a difficult look for a grown male to pull off at the best of times - but it’s blended quite nicely with the black and grey stripes and is an effective way of getting the traditional red into a design without making it look forced.
Or like you might find a 3D image of Luis Suarez’ gob in it if you cross your eyes and stare.
Still got some cash left over? Looking for a way to make yourself stand out on the pitch for reasons other than your footballing ineptitude AND donate to charity to placate your still furious partner?
Juventus defender and armed mugger puncher Leonardo Bonucci is auctioning off these ace limited edition World Cup shinpads to raise money for Live Onlus - a charitable project dedicated to raising money for local causes.
Players featured include Gigi Buffon, Mattia De Sciglio and Salvatore Sirigu as well as the lad himself.
Unsurprisingly, the Daniele De Rossi ones are already gone. They really thought the Colosseum could contain him?
By Kelly Welles
Hello? Is that the illiterate tattooist? I’ve got a brilliant idea…
Getting a tattoo to commemorate a player being sent home from a major tournament for biting the opposition is a poor judgement call at best.
We’re hardly ones to criticise. But at least all our crap tattoos are spelt correctly.
By Kelly Welles
H/T @BbhoyMcCallion, via 101greatgoals.
Alhaji Kamara: Keep on running
Norrkoping striker Alhaji Kamara responded to a second yellow and subsequent red card in his side’s Allsvenskan fixture vs. Orebro yesterday by running off the pitch, screaming his little heart out.
No idea why. It’s not as if Kenny Pavey was after him.
By Kelly Welles
World Cup Weekender: Angels & Insects
France 0-1 Germany
The good news is, France didn’t explode in an embarrassing mess all over the World Cup’s trousers. The bad news is that this defeat to a reportedly flu-raddled German side ruins the somewhat bipolar World Cup cycle that began with that magical victory in 1998.
Since then, they’ve either gone out in the group stages or got to the final.
Maybe they believed this cycle would continue, hence the somewhat relaxed approach to training last week, although it has to be said that Germany, with their stubborn high line and stingy midfield, looked the more likely.
Mats Hummels’ twelfth minute strike settled the encounter and the Germans were relatively comfortable sitting it out, repelling Karim Benzema’s raids into the box and some lovely creative work from Mathieu Valbuena and the angelic Antoine Griezmann, although the latter fell victim to his own naivety on one or two occasions.
Not to worry, France fans. If he continues keeping the company he has been, naivety will be but a fond yet distant memory.
Brazil 2-1 Colombia
Insect or FIFA drone?
And so it transpires that medics in Fortaleza weren’t the only people filmed treating Neymar’s spine irresponsibly.
In the hours after it was confirmed that the 22-year-old Brazilian talisman was out of the tournament with what is essentially a broken back, Argentina fans were filmed waving what we only hope is a plastic replica of his spinal column.
Seriously. If that is actually Neymar’s spinal column, the authorities should be concerned. That would be the most serious breach of World Cup security since those Chilean fans invaded the Maracana media centre.
Has anyone seen those guys since they were marched round the back of the stadium, by the way?
Netherlands 0-0 Costa Rica (Netherlands win 4-3 on penalties)
Could’ve been us, y’know.
If England had been true to previous tournament form, it would have been us crashing out on penalties after holding a technically superior side to 0-0 for one hundred and twenty minutes.
Take a moment to think about that, Ramblers. How would we feel about Louis van Gaal’s inspired keeper substitution if Tim Krul had saved penalties from Stevie G and Gary Cahill instead of Brian Ruiz and Michael Umaña? Would the media have sought to prove an injustice, thus raising hackles against the new Manchester United manager before he’s even through the door?
Would Arjen Robben have been demonised via a series of cruel tabloidy memes for his ruthless exploitation of a match official’s inability to read minds, thus rendering a move to the BestLeagueInTheWorld™ impossible and his career essentially a failure?
Fortunately, these are questions we don’t have to answer because while England failed to launch, Group D whipping boys Costa Rica had a stormer. Sigh.
Argentina 1-0 Belgium
Argentina haven’t exactly lit a pale blue touchpaper with their performances so far, but confidence isn’t a problem. While their fans were busy swinging their rivals replica body parts in the air, players celebrated this narrow victory with a terrible rendition of ‘Bad Moon Rising’, although taking care to ensure that the camera operator was so inept, the footage wouldn’t be admissible in a court of law.
Worse still, the amended lyrics referred to Argentina’s intention to metaphorically widdle all over Brazil’s doorstep and Diego Maradona’s superiority to Pele.
As yet we have not been able to obtain a response from Pele, but can only assume it will look something like this.
By Kelly Welles
World Cup Anime: Cats, not lions? What are they implying?
Everyone has an angle during the World Cup but this collection of anime mascots is among the most interesting to emerge from our overstuffed inboxes.
Compiled by an as yet unnamed artist, the pieces riff on cultural reference points from each nation, and while one or two are unnecessarily ‘vivid’ (for vivid, read unsettling and bafflingly crass), the majority are spot on.
Especially Switzerland. We cannot emphasise that enough.
Switzerland. For all your cheese and multipurpose knife needs, yo.
By Kelly Welles
Images: escapistmagazine via @hbandsandhbreak.
France: Coming from behind?
How have France reacted to the news that up to seven Germany players are suffering from ‘flu-like symptoms’ in the run-up to tonight’s quarter-final game?
Extra doggies? Double training sessions? One touch passing drills?
Nope. They’re seeing whether they can score from behind the goal. Confident, much?
By Kelly Welles
H/T BBC Sporf.
Your World Cup Wind Down Survival Kit
Are you languishing in a pit of despair now that the World Cup has selfishly removed your right to watch three football matches a day? Are you unclear how you’re going to make it through the rest of the summer?
Fear not, fair Ramblers. Here is a picture of David Nugent in a bra to ease you through the suffering.
Vive la Difference!
By Kelly Welles
H/T Adam Feneley!
World Cup Round-Up: Bare Force One
Argentina 1-0 Switzerland
Retirement has been hard on Claudio Caniggia.
Another day, another heartbreaking defeat for a ‘plucky’ team who didn’t stand a cat in hell’s chance before kick-off.
Argentina’s creativity, which has been sluggish out of the blocks throughout the tournament, was stifled by a disciplined Swiss side who came agonisingly close to a breakthrough on more than one occasion.
Well hellooooooo, laydee.
It was an awkward one for the viewing public. The allure of the underdog was overwhelming as time passed and Argentina failed to fire, but any desire to see Switzerland turn them over was quickly extinguished by the sight of Sepp Blatter in the stands and the subsequent realisation that being a Swiss national, in theory he would be supporting them.
Best to concentrate instead on Xherdan Shaqiri, who aside from a turn of speed that belies his podgy frame, has calves as big as his head.
It’s the incisive football analysis that keeps you coming back, y’all.
Belgium 2-1 USA
Meanwhile, American citizens are currently considering a revamp of their entire political system that would facilitate the promotion of a certain Tim Howard to the White House.
President-elect Howard, who has been plying his trade in the United Kingdom for eleven years now (you’re welcome, United States) broke an actual world record in last night’s fixture, making fifteen saves against a Belgium side who finally lived up to their pre-tournament billing.
The Republicans will just love him.
Indeed, it was eccy time before Belgium put something together to outwit the heroic Bearded Man of North Brunswick, former Chelsea poppet Kevin De Bruyne bundling a loose ball into the net on 93 minutes and Romelu Lukaku doubling the lead twelve minutes later.
But we’ve all seen Rocky enough times to know that US sportsmen never say die, and although the Belgium one-two had them rocking, there was enough time for the sprightly sub to run on and score a volley on his competitive debut. Belgium, who obviously haven’t seen Stallone’s finest moment on film, managed to repel efforts towards an equaliser and the United States was left to rue what could have been.
While presumably eyeing up the possibility of a sequel in four years time.
By Kelly Welles
World Cup Round-Up: Now is the end of the gamble
Germany 2-1 Algeria
Faithful Ramblers will remember that when Manuel Neuer signed for Bayern Munich from their rivals Schalke, he was presented with a code of conduct by the Munich Ultras. This included (but was not limited to) never approaching the South Stand where the Ultras sit, never to use their megaphone to initiate chants and never, under any circumstances, to kiss his club badge.
Presumably they didn’t want him to get his Schalke cooties on it.
Arguably if he’d have been as tolerant and respectful of football convention last night, his country (including those genius Ultras) might be waking up this morning to the knowledge they’d just been unceremoniously booted out of the World Cup by a team who had never made it past the group stages. His marauding, sweeper ‘keeper turn contributed heavily to Germany’s progression into the next round and at times, put his defenders on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
Let’s just hope the free kick farrago was a mistake. Because if they’re doing that kind of thing for shitz and giggles in a last sixteen match, there’s no hope for anyone. No matter what continent they hail from.
France 2-0 Nigeria
The upshot of all that is that the French are now arguably the most sensible team in their next fixture - a feat their conduct hasn’t allowed for in quite some time. They left it late against Nigeria, who were punished for their profligacy in front of goal; firstly by the comedically coiffed Paul Pogba and then by their own Joseph Yobo.
The upcoming quarter final could either be the most dour game in World Cup history, or a veritable circus of fistfights, pratfalls and suicidal shot stopping.
If only England were still involved.
By Kelly Welles
Mauricio Pinilla: One centimetre from classy
World Cup Weekender: Das Boot
Brazil 1-1 Chile
Brazil win 3-2 on pelanties
While Howard Webb’s ability to walk unmolested through the streets of Brazil took a serious knock during this tense opener to the weekend’s action, unusually for a British official at a major tournament, his decision making ability did not. After several thousand replays from every conceivable angle, it was proven that Webb’s assistant, Mike Mullarkey, was correct in his assertion that Hulky controlled the ball with his shoulder. He was also quite brave, given his proximity to the terrifying forward.
Brazil still don’t appear to be firing on all cylinders though, and after sneaking through via the penalty hatch will face a far sterner test vs. Colombia next Friday. Is it too soon to say highlight of the quarter finals? Probably.
But it is.
Colombia 2-0 Uruguay
As the ball hung in the air and the fresh faced 22-year-old turned his head to check the defender and goalkeeper’s positioning before chesting it down and smacking it perfectly into the back of the net, did anyone else think back to Roy Hodgson’s youthful England side and smile a rueful smile?
Thought so. Sigh.
Costa Rica 1-1 Greece
Costa Rica win 5-3 on pelanties
The sheer bloody-mindedness required for Costa Rica to see this through to the bitter end while down to ten men should stand them in good stead when they play The Netherlands next Saturday, but it pays not to be too hasty in this World Cup. A few weeks ago, we were writing them off as the guaranteed whipping boys of Group D; a team likely to have been mauled into a malleable pulp by the time England got to them.
We all know how that turned out.
Assuming they can avoid becoming Robbenry victims, there’s no reason whatsoever that they can’t do some damage to the Netherlands and possibly wend their merry way through to the semis.
Imagine the scenes, as a certain Spellsy might say.
Netherlands 2-1 Mexico
In this tournament, every good refereeing decision prompts an equal and opposite poor refereeing decision. Unfortunate Mexico were on on the wrong end of two contentious calls during this game, the final one inevitably involving the ability of a 5ft 10ins footballer with otherwise excellent balance to stay on his feet when standing in a chalk box.
Mexico more than held their own for long periods of the game and while no one would have begrudged The Netherlands’ moving through to the quarter-finals off the back of a cracking strike, it wasn’t just El Tricolor fans left feeling bitter at the manner of their exit.
It’s a shame, really. Their group stage performances were thrilling but if they go on to win the darn thing, it’s always going to feel like it’s because Arjen Robben dived.
Which frankly sucks.
By Kelly Welles
Our Book of the Week: Every Boy’s Dream by Chris Green
One thing is for sure. If England performed well and won an international football tournament, we as a country wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves. As the team arrived home and strode down the steps of their official plane brandishing one of the few massive shiny trophies that Sergio Ramos hasn’t thrown under the wheels of a passing bus, we’d simply stare, our mouths hanging open as our minds frantically tried to rearrange the images into something recognisable.
It’s something of a relief then, that the chances of that happening in the near future are hovering at around the same level as the ambient temperature of the Uruguay dressing room right now and we can throw ourselves into the biennial inquest with significantly more gusto than any of our players demonstrated during the tournament.
The usual questions have been dusted off and are being presented in various iterations as we speak; why are England so consistently poor in major tournaments; why can’t English players translate their excellent domestic form for their country; why do they look so miserable all the time?
Why didn’t we just appoint Harry Redknapp?
In order to avoid desperate, recidivist measures such as the above and the same cycle kicking off again in late June 2016, we must look deeper than the simplistic “too many foreigners” in the game argument and drill down into the stuff we as a nation find deeply uncomfortable. This includes, but is not limited to, recognising we no longer own the game of football.
Other countries, upon realising that their national team was not performing as expected, have examined their systems and reset, sacrificing short term success for long term progress. We sack managers and spend £120m on a sparkly new National Football Centre that our first team don’t use that often because it’s in the wrong place.
And that isn’t even the most annoying bit.
In his 2009 book, ‘Every Boy’s Dream’, Chris Green sets out the situation in plain, unvarnished terms. Having interviewed many people involved in the game, from parents of prospective talents to former heads of youth development at the FA, he concludes that inadequate training resources (including unqualified, inexperienced coaches), power struggles between the three governing bodies (the FA, the Football League and the Premier League), the trawling of pre-pubescent talent by Premier League academies and too much organised football are all contributory factors to England’s malaise.
The book, which is refreshingly accessible given the layers of bureaucracy and corporate aggrandising involved in the subject matter, explains how the inception of the Premier League not only slashed the funding available for training facilities in the lower tiers of football but increased competition for talent between financially secure clubs. Despite rules being in place regarding the age a boy can be signed and the distance he is allowed to travel for training, Green describes how parents can become so dazzled by the opportunities available to a talented youngster that they will drive their kids hundreds of miles a week to play for twenty minutes.
Unsurprisingly, the clubs show slightly less commitment when it comes to releasing them.
If you’ve heard former England right back and FA England Commission member Danny Mills’ summarising for BBC 5Live, you’ll have heard him mention a few of these ideas between throwing buckets of water at Chris Waddle. He has articulated the climate of fear within which young players must ply their trade; fear of ridicule, fear of making mistakes, fear of being dropped and losing their chance of a lucrative career in the most glamorous sport in the world.
Players look like they’re scared and under pressure while wearing an England shirt because they are.
Whether he’s read ‘Every Boy’s Dream’ or his personal experiences have contributed to his opinion, I can’t say, but in theory at least, it should be reassuring to have someone on the FA England Commission who is apparently aware of the scale of the task ahead if we’re ever going to truly be able to say we are be proud of our team. But while their recent report paid lip service to matters such as grassroots training and the prioritising of the Premier League over England, it’s perfectly clear that fundamental changes to football’s existing structure are not on the agenda.
Instead of reading that in an attempt to understand the deficiencies of the England national team, read ‘Every Boy’s Dream’. When you’re fully acquainted with the information that we’re supposed to believe was available to a writer but not those charged with improving football, you won’t feel any better but at least you’ll be a little clearer as to where the problem lies.
By Kelly Welles
Every Boy’s Dream is among several excellent football books published by Bloomsbury and available for 30% off during the World Cup. Check them out here.
World Cup Round-Up: The ‘Hands-Off’ Approach
Nigeria 2-3 Argentina
As far as Diego Maradona is concerned, this is an absolute disaster. Aside from his prowess with the ladies, his position as the greatest footballer ever to emerge from Argentina is vital to maintaining his substantial ego and Lionel Messi’s failure to perform at an international tournament was the only thing keeping the El Diego blimp inflated.
Now look what’s happened.
The diminutive forward, whose domestic season is widely perceived to have been patchy, scored two in this game, propelling him to four in the tournament and position of joint top scorer with Neymar.
Three wins from three games sees Argentina, who were rescued from what could have been an embarrassing draw to Iran by a Messi special, finish top of the group but despite this defeat Nigeria have done enough to qualify as runners up. But El Diego’s eyes will be firmly fixed on the Switzerland fixture and beyond, chewing his onion and fearing the worst. Leo needs two goals (finished with the foot or the hand) and two assists to nail his predecessor’s record in Mexico ‘86.
If that happens, Messi’s only hope of survival is to sign for Napoli.
Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1 Iran
If Iran had just managed to hold on for another couple of minutes, they might have taken a point off Argentina. Or three. And since we all love a bit of extrapolation during World Cup time, that boost might have been sufficient to propel them past Bosnia-Herzegovina and they might have won the group and gone on a run and maybe even won the tournament!
Alright, but still, people! Iran! You’ve got to hand it to them. While most of us were eyeing Bosnia-Herzegovina as the potential spanner in Argentina and Nigeria’s works, Iran’s spirit and intensity helped them push opposition teams far further than we could have imagined. They can leave the tournament with their heads held high, which is considerably more than some, more ‘politically evolved’ societies can claim.
Sadly, England will be too busy pointing out that Queiroz has resigned to notice the irony.
Honduras 0-3 Switzerland
Picture the scene. In the unlikely event that Switzerland beat Argentina, they could, at least theoretically, face the USA in quarter-finals. If that does happen, the World Cup would probably have exploded anyway, so why bother with a game? Instead, let’s have legendary rap superstar and all round G, Clint ‘Deuce’ Dempsey facing off with Xherdan ‘It’s puppy fat!’ Shaqiri in a rap battle.
Both have shown promise in the area before, the centre circle would be perfect for all their mates to stand around shouting while wearing impossibly large headphones and, as is traditional in these affairs, they would be spitting insults at one another while all the time hating on ‘The Man’, who is in fact, FIFA.
No one loses.
Ecuador 0-0 France
“It’s not their [the players] fault,” Didier Deschamps told a press conference after this feisty but ultimately fruitless draw that sees France qualify as group winners. “Let them be happy. We didn’t win this match and we tried everything, but it’s not my role to tell them to cool down.”
Um, isn’t that approach Raymond Domenech took? And look what happened to him!
By Kelly Welles
World Cup Round-Up: With Teeth
It was 175-1, apparently.175-1 for the man voted PFA Player of the Year to bite an opponent during the most prestigious football tournament in the world.
For most of us it would have been a point of amusement prior to kick-off, a reference to a time before Suarez sorted his head out and supposedly left the on-pitch amateur dramatics - a series of murky deeds ranging from the mundane (diving), via the idiotic (racism) to the absolutely inexplicable (biting) - behind him.
Watching the game last night with a friend who doesn’t generally follow football but is sufficiently aware of the game to know Suarez’ teeth had offended before, remarked “Once is bad enough, but twice? He’ll get a lifetime ban for that, won’t he?”. I was forced, reluctantly given this is the sport I love, to advise that this was Suarez’ third offence. Not second.
Their facial expression said it all.
Once is madness. When Suarez bit Otman Bakkal in 2010, he was Ajax captain but his disciplinary record was already questionable. His deliberate handball in the quarter-final of that year’s World Cup and subsequent cheering after Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting penalty had not endeared him to an audience who felt Ghana had been robbed of their rightful place in the semi-finals. But a seven match ban was served and the assumption made that Suarez would mature in time and learn to control his peculiar impulses.
By the time he bit Branislav Ivanovic three years later, there was little evidence he had. In December 2011 he had been found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra and served an eight match ban. His frequent and occasionally hilarious attempts to con officials by throwing himself to the ground were felt by some managers to be having such a significant impact on matches that calls for retrospective punishment became deafening.
He served a ten match ban for that bite. Internet meme producers exploded.
Until he sank his teeth into Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder last night, it remained something of a joke. We were assured by Suarez’ club (whose backing of the player during the aftermath of the Evra incident was described by some as ‘shameful’) that he had grown up and accepted responsibility for his actions, and towards the end of last season Suarez indeed played a key part in Liverpool’s push for the Premier League title, attracting interest and bids of up to £80m from Real Madrid, if press reports are to be believed.
His career, encompassing all of the above as well as the absurd ability he has on the field, is now on a knife edge. Pending a FIFA investigation, he is unlikely to feature in this tournament again, and without his prowess Uruguay are unlikely to progress any further. His football future in the long term hangs in the balance too, with the possibility of a two year ban already mentioned.
Unfortunately, given the joy (and agony) he is able to unleash on the field, his inability to control his impulses must be severely punished if only to eliminate the ludicrous possibility of defenders losing concentration because they’re afraid of being bitten. Liverpool will suffer, Uruguay will suffer, football will suffer, but Suarez has defined his own career and must accept the consequences.
Back in 2013, in the aftermath of the Ivanovic bite, the BBC interviewed sports psychologist Dr Thomas Fawcett, who responded to claims that Suarez had been offered anger management therapy with a eerily prescient statement.
“It’s in the man.” he said.
“I would think that in five years’ time if there was a certain nerve hit or chord rung with Suarez in a different situation he would react in the same way.”
Five years? It took less than two. It seems the odds are not in Suarez’ favour.
By Kelly Welles
World Cup Weekender: A word from our sponsors
After last week’s rather ambitious attempt to watch all the games and report on them resulted in excessive drinking, snacking and hallucinations of Pete Donaldson in his Morph suit, a more reasoned approach was adopted for this weekend’‘s round of games. I watched what I could and ignored the ones I couldn’t.
Anyone who believes this simply isn’t good enough should contact our new Complaints Officer (pictured above) who’ll be glad to assist you.
Italy 0-1 Costa Rica
With Gary Lineker leading the charge, a significant proportion of England fans slipped into the Italy shirts they happened to have knocking around and professed allegiance to the Azurri in a one time only deal.
The power of England was instantly transferred to Italy and, of course, our only hope of World Cup glory stumbled to a dismal 1-0 defeat with all their best players looking like they were carrying their own personal Sam Allardyce on their backs.
It was like being knocked out all over again, but I do wonder how many of those fans, if pressed, would admit to genuinely wanting to go through to the last sixteen of a major tournament via the backdoor at the expense of another, better team? Particularly a major tournament that has already given us some astonishing football, heroic goals and controversy aplenty.
If many answer yes, those conducting the biennial inquest could do worse than add that to their agenda under the header ‘Tragic state of affairs.’
Switzerland 2-5 France
According to the runes, France a due a good tournament and as though through sheer force of will alone, it looks like they’re going to have one. Eight goals in two games so far, six different scorers, and as yet no reports of major disruption in the team seem to have proved Didier Deschamps was correct to leave certain parties at home, although Samir Nasri’s girlfriend Anara Atanes seems determined to convince the world the Manchester City midfielder is happier on the beach.
Don’t panic if you’ve opted for Switzerland as your second team though. Providing they recover from this battering, their first round win against Ecuador and anything vs. Honduras on Wednesday should see them comfortably through. Which is why it’s fine for us to summarise the game with this picture illustrating just how tiny Mathieu Valbuena actually is.
Germany 2-2 Ghana
Headbutted(ish) in the first game, Thomas Muller completed a facial injury double in this tightly contested match, taking John Boye’s shoulder full in the chiselled cheekbone. As is usual when a large bone moving at speeds hits a much smaller, more delicate bone, Muller’s face exploded and he required several minutes of medical attention.
This clarification is necessary because anyone who watched England vs. Uruguay might be labouring under the misapprehension that the normal response to this particular injury is to fall unconscious for forty-five seconds, then leap to your feet and start bellowing at anyone who has the temerity to tell you to leave the field of play.
Alvaro Pereira, ladies and gentlemen.
Argentina 1-0 Iran
Fear not, Iran! Your government might be panicking at the prospect of people enjoying the World Cup to such an extent that they’re threatening crackdowns on public gatherings, but support for your team was not in short supply for this fixture vs. tournament behemoths Argentina.
After half an hour or so it was tough not to scream support for the men in red who suppressed Argentina’s talent and verve so stoically and at times were a forehead’s breadth away from taking a 1-0 lead. Typically it was Lionel Messi who dug out his colleagues, making space for himself on the edge of the eighteen yard box before smashing one past goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi in the 91st minute.
Son Thiago was on hand to see his Dad save the day. He’ll need to get used to that shirt. If the rest of La Albiceleste don’t pull their fingers out, he’s going to be getting a call up a little earlier than expected…
USA 2-2 Portugal
Speaking of last gasp goals by teams who should have been a country mile ahead, congratulations to Silvestre Varela, who saved Cristiano Ronaldo the embarrassment of losing to SAWKER small fry. They aren’t supposed to be a force in world football but the USA outshone Portugal for long periods of the game - one of the highlights being another goal from everyone’s favourite rap star, Clint Dempsey.
This is why, Landon. This is why.
By Kelly Welles
World Cup Round-Up*: Clever girl!
Uruguay 2-1 England
¡Buenos días! What a fantastic morning to be from Uruguay!
You have to love the World Cup don’t you, with its playful manipulation of expectation and wilful urge to make perfect patterns from peoples raw emotion. Ignominious defeat in the opening game is forgotten as the country basks in the joy of comprehensively beating the mighty England, Home of Football™, 2-1.
A talismanic striker - a man who just four weeks ago was under the surgeon’s knife after spending two seasons provoking ire and controversy from the Premier League faithful - returns to the field of play and becomes a hero. First from a moment of genius by the most ludicrously rock star-esque footballer to squeeze into the unnervingly tight Uruguay shirt, then via the second most unfortunate error his captain has made this year.
It was like poetry in motion, unless you happen to be from Croxteth, in which case your failure to change the game is punishable by a picture of your four-year-old son appearing on the front of the ‘nation’s favourite’ newspaper.
Look, it’s either this or wallow in the same old depression that descends upon around this point every two years. This or bitch on social media or radio phone ins about how Roy got it wrong, how the team got it wrong, how we’re not good enough. Listening to Chris Waddle’s now traditional biennial rant and Andy Townsend’s increasingly nonsensical use of the term ‘in and around’.
Can’t be arsed. Even if Mario Balotelli does earn the right to kiss the Queen.
Colombia 2-1 Ivory Coast
Instead of a media post-mortem that drills down into the personal/professional failings of England players and the ‘ineptitude’ of the manager and a Football Association that leaves tyre marks in its haste to depart before anyone attempts to engage it in serious discussion about youth policy, why can’t we just spend the next four years practicing and perfecting a victory dance?
Would the outcome be any more depressing? Really?
Japan 0-0 Greece
Right, that’s enough complaining. Other football matches have taken place, y’know. Matches that are just as important to the countries involved as England vs. Uruguay was to England. Ask the bloke in the picture.
Theoretically, both Japan and Greece could still qualify for the knockout stage of the tournament if results go their way. After this 0-0 draw, “Japan face Colombia, who have already qualified with six points, and a win could still take them above Ivory Coast, whose current tally is three points while the Greeks must defeat the Ivorians and hope that Japan’s result gives them a chance to finish…
Ah, bugger it. I’m off to Photoshop the lads into some Game of Thrones posters. Speller will love that.
By Kelly Welles
Images: buzzfeed, Getty.
World Cup Round-Up: The highlight of the tournament so far
Australia 2-3 The Netherlands
People, the highlight of the tournament so far occurred during this match and it’s only appropriate that we pause to bask in its inescapable glory. We’re barely a week in and there have been many pretenders to the much contested throne - the free-kick squirty, Chiles thinking he was being stoned to death, the memes - but one moment stands head and shoulders (Not you, Joe) above the rest.
Ladies and gentlemen. I give you the OranjeBoom windmill hat. Go home, Ghanaian Pot Man imposter. Leave town, Timotei ad applicant. You have been trounced.
You won’t have seen this if you were listening to the game on BBC 5Live, but you will have heard the sound of Robbie Savage actually exploding after Timmy Cahill’s awesome equaliser just a minute after Arjen Robben opened the scoring for them Nethers.
Your hapless correspondent happened to be on her way back from work when the goal went in and can confirm he was still honking after the final whistle, presumably while his co-commentators picked teeth and hair out of the furnishings and their soft tissue.
Despite punching well above their weight for the majority of their two games, the defeat means that Australia cannot progress to the knock-out phase of the tournament, but panic ye not. If other results across Group’s A & B fall in a particular way, The Netherlands, who retain an unfathomably capacity for looking unthreatening despite fielding some of the most attack minded players ever seen in football, could end up playing Brazil in the last sixteen.
That’s Brazil, who retain an unfathomably capacity for looking unthreatening despite fielding some of the most attack minded players ever seen in football.
During the commentary of that game, Savage will propel himself into space, through a wormhole and into an alternative reality (preferably one where possession of a permatan is a criminal offence, or drift into a long, peaceful sleep lasting roughly three weeks.
Spain 0-2 Chile
Canadian people are smooth, no? Just look at lino Joe Fletcher here, casually shrugging off a handshake snub as though he hasn’t got a care in the world. I posted this not only so you could admire Mr Fletcher’s panache, but also to help you remember what a smiling, relaxed Iker Casillas looks like.
It may be a while until you see that again.
You see, unless you’re one of the Chile fans who broke into the Maracana prior to the fixture and ended up being ‘detained’ by the military police (you can read about how that goes here, information fans), you will have heard by now that the most extraordinary period of footballing dominance we’re ever likely to see in our lifetimes has ended.
No more commemorative tattoos, no more tiki-taka, no more supercilious pursing of lips as the office irritant who hates football picks them out of the hat in the work sweepstake and starts telling you how brilliant they actually are.
We know how brilliant they are/were. It was absolutely incredible and in years to come it’ll become the stuff of myth and legend. And we’re the lucky buggers who were there. Brilliant, eh?
Cameroon 0-4 Croatia
It was a relief to see Croatia’s boys throw off the embarrassment of a paparazzi (L: plural) pool intrusion to stick four past a heatstroke afflicted Cameroon team.
It was definitely heatstroke. There is no other reason (Daniele De Rossi aside, obv) that professional footballers would be getting themselves sent off before half time in a crucial World Cup group game for smacking a man in the back when he doesn’t even have the ball, then later headbutting one another.
Still. At least Benoit Assou-Ekotto can look forward to an enthusiastic welcome back to White Hart Lane now his tournament is over.
Assuming he can justify that headbutt, obviously.
By Kelly Welles
Images via Twitter, 101greatgoals.
World Cup Round-Up: Guillermo the Octopus
Belgium 2-1 Algeria
It’s ironic that now Belgium have finally put together a football team capable of competing at elite level, the country is on the verge of splitting.
This issue, which is precisely the kind of thing England fans could and should expect if we ever manage to put together a team that plays convincing, coherent, consistent football, is one of the reasons why I might have offered my support to the Belgians if they hadn’t been touted by every pundit, expert and human being vaguely acquainted with the sport of football as the World Cup’s ‘dark horses’. As it was, I supported Algeria.
One of the most unfancied teams of the tournament, Les Fennecs (The Desert Foxes. Good) nonetheless scared the living crap out of the Belgians, who to be fair to them, were operating beneath the weight of so much expectation, it’s amazing they managed to crawl out of the dressing room and onto the pitch.
Manager Vahid Halilhodžić has indeed transformed the lumbering, heavy footed Algerians of 2010 into solid, impenetrable mass that even the fleet footed Eden Hazard found tough to break through. Sofiane Feghouli’s penalty was their first World Cup goal since Mexico ‘86 and they hung onto their lead as though it had the power to make up for every single minute of those twenty-eight years.
It would take something special to beat them, and while it might not be to everybody’s taste, Marouane Fellaini’s afro is certainly that. The gangly Manchester United man, who failed to score in sixteen appearances with his club last season, rose like a salmon with a comedy wig on to equalise after Marc Wilmots’ late reshuffle, just ten minutes before Dries Mertens smashed in one of Eden Hazard’s finest runs of the game.
For fifty odd minutes, Algeria were a hair’s breadth away from smashing Group H wide open. #MoyesOut indeed.
Brazil 0-0 Mexico
If nothing else, this increasingly frantic but ultimately non-scoring draw has unveiled the first essential signing of the summer. With almost indecent haste, Arsenal and Liverpool have reportedly expressed an interest in Guillermo Ochoa, whose heroic handiwork against Brazil’s strike force is far better explained through graphics than increasingly hysterical prose.
That pic is just from the first half - presumably the image generating machine blew up when requested to do the whole game.
He was ruddy everywhere, prompting mass hysteria to and memes to break out on an unprecedented level.
Both Arsenal and Liverpool should be careful what they wish for though. In these times of instant communication a man’s career can peak and trough at record speed and he may well be old news by July 13th. Even before I’ve finished writing this sentence. Let alone by the time Arsene Wenger has made a decision.
He’s already been on the front of Time, for goodness sake.
Russia 1-1 South Korea
Dear Rob Green. It isn’t you. It’s him.
By Kelly Welles
Landon Donovan: Built-in redundancy
A long, relaxed, slow up-yours to Jurgen Klinsmann from the USMNT’s out of favour striker.
Nice work, Landy. Although if you’ve got that much time on your hands, you should probably consider upgrading to a PS4. The resolution on your World Cup winning goal would then be as sharp as the point you’re making.
By Kelly Welles
World Cup Round-Up: That’s a dig!
Germany 4-0 Portugal
You can’t help but feel that Jogi Löw watched Germany’s arch-rivals rip Spain a new one last Friday night, raised an eyebrow, made a note in his Filofax and, next training session, simply instructed his players to beat Portugal by four clear goals.
The fact that their opponents were Portugal was neither here nor there, the message lay in the manner of the victory and the efficiency with which the task was carried out. Top of the group? Check. +4 goal difference? Check. Onto the next game.
Of course, Portugal had a mare, lost Pepe to a soft red card (you’d imagine he’d have worked this provocation business out by now, wouldn’t you?), Fábio Coentrão and Hugo Almeida to injury and any confidence whatsoever in Raul Meireles’ beard, pretty much confirming that fate is not going to extend a helping hand towards Cristiano’s World Cup legacy. Which is tremendously sad for the tanned trickster, even if you dislike his shtick.
Jogi Löw extended a hand, of course, but the only thing that Ronaldo is going to contract from that is a staph infection.
Ghana 1- 2 USA
Bugger the football - in these environs at least, the re-emergence of the Ghanaian Pot Man was the most eagerly anticipated part of this fixture. And sure enough, amongst the usual array of vikings, lunatics and applications for the next Timotei advert, there was a man with a pot on his head.
Whether this was the real pot man or not was a matter of some debate on Twitter, the general consensus being that the fella in question looked a little younger and less, shall we say, experienced, than the chap we’ve come to know and love.
Sadly Ghanaian merriment (and fire hazards) were confined to the stands as another Ramble favourite Clint ‘Deuce’ Dempsey, scored what turned out to be the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history, Sunderland Hall-of-Famer Jozy Altidore was carried off the park with a suspected hamstring strain and Andre Ayew’s 82nd minute equaliser was cancelled out by John Brooks’ winner.
In case you hadn’t heard, Brooks’ Wikipedia entry on Monday read as follows: “John Anthony Brooks, Jr. referred to as John Brooks (born January 28, 1993 in Berlin) is a German-American footballer. He is the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln.”
Iran 0-0 Nigeria
Nothing - Nothing to see here.
By Kelly Welles
Croatia: Bottom. Of the table
Croatia have reportedly banned the media from their camp after photographs of squad members skinny dipping were posted online.
Or, as Google Translate would have it, “The world has seen “tools” at their disposal Croatian footballers, there were exhibits for the title of “those” magazines. But instead of accepting it as a pastime and a little wit photographers, who from day one is not allowed to come near the camp even at gunpoint, players could hardly wait to declare silenzio stampa. As of today there is no statement. They want to punish the media, and actually penalize the audience ... Niko Kovac just shrugged helplessly.”
Even at gunpoint, they reckon. If that’s the case, Niko Kovac has got more to worry about than some photos of a few sculpted backsides…
By Kelly Welles
Image via sbs.
World Cup Weekender: The Sick Boy Method
It was Renton-esque. The carrier bag full of food items that could be consumed by the handful. Fluids, both alcoholic and isotonic, to ensure that the peaks and troughs of merriment and the morning after weren’t too altitude sickness inducing. Ditto Ibuprofen. The ceremonial boarding up of the living room door.
It was Friday, 7.55pm. I was planning to ease into the ten games of my World Cup Weekender with a straightforward, if competitive and entertaining 2-0 victory for Spain, with an appetising side of Dutch unravelling.
The door was already swinging on broken hinges by the time the first SuperVan photoshop came out. It’s often hard to convey the magnitude of what happens in ninety minutes to people who don’t care about football (especially when you’re covered in crisp dust and cider) but the world champions’ utter capitulation to a Dutch side who had finally managed to channel their not inconsiderable frustration at a common enemy, seems to have caught the imagination of all but the most hardened cynics.
Arjen Robben’s focussed aggression. Daley Blind’s crosses. RvP’s staggering header. The actual sound of Iker Casillas breaking. Seeing Manchester United’s out of favour striker race to the touchline for a high five with his manager, remembering they’re both working for the same team next season and having a panic attack. The whole thing captured in one photo, cheerily retweeted by Nigel De Jong (top).
It was all there. In the second flippin’ game.
Had the weekend peaked to early? With an England game on the horizon it was tempting to believe so, especially after watching a heartily unfancied Australia put in a plucky, if unsuccessful performance against Chile and the supposed Group D whipping boys Costa Rica storm to an inconvenient 3-1 victory over Uruguay and simultaneously offer Arsene Wenger another selection headache.
But although the final result of the Manaus match up leaves England in third place on goal difference, the general feeling is one of positivity among supporters - an unfamiliar and slightly disorientating position.
Obviously Wayne Rooney has been criticised. The Italians spotted the space freed up by the Manchester United striker’s unwillingness to track back early and exploited it time and time again. England failed to deal with the anticipated threat of Pirlo and Veratti, as well as the unanticipated and relentless penetration by Candreva and Marchisio. The defensive frailties. Gary Lewin.
Indeed, the only thing missing from England’s performance was the terrible malaise that seems to descend on our players whenever they pull the shirt over their heads. Raheem Sterling’s audacious shot from outside the area may not have counted, but the jolt of excitement it produced lifted most off the sofa. The possession and one touch passing that has been absent from England’s playbook for so long, we forgot what it feels like to love our team.
England lost. But so did Uruguay. It’s the worst case scenario for us in that there’s still hope. At least until Luis Suarez is passed fit for Thursday.
Having confirmed that consumption of all the energy drinks in the world couldn’t keep me awake for Ivory Coast vs. Japan, I was forced to hit the record button and only saw the Elephants trample over Japan’s 1-0 lead via the highlights. But a good night’s sleep stood me in good stead, and by the time Switzerland’s Haris Seferovic shattered Ecuadorian hearts with a 92nd minute winner, I was practically awake.
Indeed, France’s fairly straightforward 3-0 victory over Honduras would have been quite an enjoyable experience if Richard Keys hadn’t started piping up about goal-line technology but faith was restored by who else but Lionel Messi, who had a mare in the first half, then produced an epic second goal from nothing, which turned out to be the winner.
He’ll do that.
Liver function allowing, I may consider pulling another World Cup weekender, although you’re probably better off relying on more conventional and experienced pundits for more informative World Cup coverage.
From Glenn Hoddle’s camel toe via Clarke Carlisle’s misunderstanding of eligibility in international football, through Phil Neville’s reassertion of fraternal inferiority to appreciation of Thierry Henry’s cardigans, it’s all being played out against a backdrop of confusion as to why Robbie Savage is there at all, and dare I say it?
The major news organisations have it totally covered, and it’s almost as good as the actual footie.
By Kelly Welles
Brazil 3-1 Croatia: A plinth among men
There was a game, but you almost certainly watched it and if you’re still not clear on what exactly happened, you can read about it virtually everywhere this morning.
Here’s what we saw from the Ramble sofa. At least until the fistfight broke out over the canapés and we lost Pete down the back.
Why we’re surprised that people are overwhelmed by the prospect of doing something they’ve trained for and dreamed abut their entire lives, I don’t know, but Brazil’s passion was gratifying and moving nonetheless.
By the way, whoever told David Luiz that you can actually sing a competition into submission is very irresponsible.
Ball on a plinth
A reassuring start.
Luka Modric’s hair
You probably saw he’d had it cut after celebrating Real Madrid winning the Champions League trophy (Sergio Ramos and the chewing gum in the bus back, perhaps?) but we got to see Modric’s smart new haircut in all its Croation glory last night.
Hopefully people will stop saying he looks like Gail Platt now.
Niko Kovac threatening Jogo Low’s status as style icon.
Was Adenir Silva acting on Joachim Low’s orders here? Did he intend to finish off Niko Kovac after the inexperienced international manager encroached on Low’s status as ‘most stylish manager’ with his snappy suit and delicate features?
You can see why he’s upset…
The ‘encroachment’ squirty
Has whipping a can of what is ostensibly shaving foam out of a holster ever elicited such excitement from a global audience?
No. No it hasn’t.
The penalty/referee howler
Marcelo’s own goal
The inevitable conclusion
By Kelly Welles
Images: @br_uk, cnn.com, Elsa/Getty Images South America, @BeardEric, yahoo.
Hooters: Massive boob
World Cup Crib Sheet: Group H
You can’t blame their optimism, but the well of joy one might have plundered in touting Belgium as tournament ‘dark horses’ ran dry a long time ago. And while we’d like to think that an unbeaten qualifying campaign, a team boasting talented football luminaries in virtually every position and a squad offering a healthy mix of experience and youth is behind the surge in support, it’s far more likely that familiarity is to blame.
Eleven of the final 23-man squad currently represent Premier League teams, meaning we’ve had the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their golden generation without even having to change channel.
Captain Kompany’s hard fought title push. Eden Hazard’s absurd skill. Adnan Januzaj’s pace and creativity.
And Jose Mourinho’s vexation at Thibaut Courtois’ abilities in big games was a moment savoured by non-Chelsea fans everywhere.
But while their progress through the group should be relatively straightforward, a booby trap of a last sixteen awaits them. Should Belgium win Group H and results in Group G go as expected, they’ll face Portugal. If they finish second, they’ll get Germany. Literally (Ruud), anything could happen, but given our over inflated sense of our own importance, it’s obvious. They’re going to end up going out to Germany on penalties and blame us for jinxing them.
That could work out really badly.
I’ll be honest. The last time I was taking any significant interest in what the Algerian national team were doing, a slightly overweight, sweaty shadow of a footballer strode past the camera mouthing off at England fans and obscured my view.
Since that heady 0-0 draw in Cape Town, little has changed as far as England are concerned, but Algerian football has experienced something of a shot in the arm.
The heavy footed, aging squad of 2010, who crashed out of the group stage without scoring a single goal, has been transformed by coach Halilhodžić‘s philosophy of pressing, dynamic football which propelled them through the first stage of World Cup qualifying with five out of a possible six wins.
Halilhodžić will have been most gratified by their stubbornness in the face of defeat, though.
Guns were not used.
3-2 down after the first leg of the final play-off vs. Burkina Faso and they managed to finagle their way through - Madjid Bouguerra’s 49th minute goal decisive in the end.
While they’re unlikely to challenge, fixtures against them will be awkward and and their capacity to nick a point here or there could make things very difficult for Russia and Belgium.
Let’s hope their fans support them regardless, eh?
Manager: Fabio Capello Special Skill: Survival
Shirt: Out of this world.
Slogan: “No one can catch us!”
The excitement that greeted Russia’s unexpected trouncing of the Czech Republic in their first group match in EURO 2012 implied a will existed to see a sleeping giant start kicking arse and taking names.
Unfortunately, an all mouth and no trousers approach to their remaining games - a draw with Poland and a 1-0 defeat to Greece - saw them exit the competition with their tails between their legs and a negligible fine for fan violence.
Will we see that level of excitement this time? Well, the absence of Andrey Arshavin is stab in the heart of facetious merry making, but Fabio Capello stripped him of the captain’s armband and dropped him after he mouthed off at fans. He has not been selected for Russia’s first World Cup finals squad since 2002, which seems unnecessarily harsh…
Until you see his holiday photos.
Having steered Russia through the qualifying stages with consummate ease, the former England manager will be relying on his defence to minimise goal scoring opportunities; a wise policy given his own forwards have only scored eighteen league goals between them last season.
Losing the midfield creativity of Roman Shirokov was a massive blow, but Alan Dzagoev, who scored two of Russia’s four goals in that game vs. Czech Republic will be keen to rekindle the interest that saw him linked with several clubs in 2012.
For now, Capello remains cautious. “Many people think it should be easy for us, but I want to tell them they are wrong.” he said recently.
You can’t blame him. It’s not as though he hasn’t seen teams through fantastic qualifying campaigns only for them to inexplicably collapse when it matters.
Manager: Hong Myung-Bo Special Skill: Aerial threat
Shirt: “Unique collar.”
Slogan: “Enjoy it, Reds.”
The fact that they used forty-five different players in qualifying implies that new(ish) manager Hong Myung-Bo isn’t entirely clear about his first choice eleven - never ideal when playing in an international tournament. But teams like Korea Republic know they’ll need a little luck to carry them through the group stages, so what could be better than channelling it directly from the man who captained them to their best ever finish in a World Cup?
He’ll be fine, even if they do foul it up. The South Korean people are notoriously generous. Guus Hiddink, who managed them to that historic fourth place in 2002, had a stadium named after him, received honorary national citizenship and is credited in some quarters with redefining “national citizenship and identity”.
And he didn’t even play!
By Kelly Welles
John Oliver: Many guys, one cup
There’s going to come a time in your World Cup experience when you have to explain to someone who doesn’t watch football why there are people rioting outside the stadia. Why the population of Brazil, known for their passionate love of the game, are protesting against its most prestigious tournament being held in their country. Basically, you’re going to have to explain why everybody hates FIFA.
This, by former Daily Show contributor John Oliver, should help.
By Kelly Welles
World Cup Crib Sheet: Group G
Manager: Joachim Löw Special Skill: Wardrobe management
Shirt: Nerve wrackingly nice.
Slogan: “One Nation, One Team, One Dream!”
We only have ourselves to blame for this, y’know. Arguably, if England hadn’t beaten the Germans 5-1 (even Heskey scored!) in their own backyard back in 2001, they wouldn’t have been forced to rethink their entire approach to international football.
If they hadn’t rethought their entire approach to international football, they may not have produced a generation of players capable of challenging the best in the world, to the point where every group they’ve started a major tournament in since 2010 has been designated the ‘Group of Death’.
It probably stings so much because a lot of England fans feel that a similar adjustment could have prevented, or at least, minimised the humiliation of that 4-1 defeat in Bloemfontein, but while that might be true, it shouldn’t detract from Germany’s achievements in recent years.
They lost to eventual winners Spain in 2010, finalists Italy in 2012 and while Brazil remain outright favourites, the Germans are 6/1 to win the tournament - same odds as Spain.
That’s a big old deal for a Northern European team and despite losing Marco Reus to ankle ligament damage vs. Armenia, it’s lunacy to think they’ll do anything other that win the group again, cruise through their last sixteen fixture against either Belgium or Russia (sorry Korean Republic and Algeria, but even you probably don’t fancy you chances) and potentially throw a massive spanner into Argentina’s World Cup works in the quarters.
Before you scoff, this has actually happened already, albeit on FIFA.
On the plus side, that will be cheering to England. We’ll probably need a bit of perking up by then.
Manager: Paulo Bento Special Skill: Chopsy
Shirt: Stripes vary in width from great to so narrow you can barely see them. Mirroring the distribution of talent?
Slogan: “The past is history. The future is victory.”
Alright, who’s the guy in the middle then?
While there are seven hundred and thirty-six players registered to play in this year’s World Cup, it’s not a democracy. The vast majority of these players will experience their moment in the Brazilian sun, but their contribution to the competition as a whole will be a footnote; remembered perhaps by their fans and fellow countrymen but not by the viewing public at large.
Cristiano Ronaldo is not one of these players. Having single-footedly propelled his team to the tournament via an astonishing second leg play-off performance, he put to bed any concerns about his ability to play under pressure, but now a persistent knee injury could threaten his chances of featuring in the opening group fixture vs. Germany. And what with this being the ‘Group of Death’ (and Doom), his presence could be decisive in who proceeds to the knock-out stages and who goes home.
Sought after, despite an unnerving resemblance to Limahl.
Is it unfair to cast the likes of Fabio Coentrao, Pepe, Bruno Alves & Joao Moutinho, Nani & Raul Meireles in supporting roles? There’s no denying that the terrifying central defensive partnership of Bruno Alves and Pepe will be useful against the likes of Germany, while Coentrao’s marauding runs have caused all manner of problems for La Liga right backs this season, although any hopes Manchester United fans had of him replacing Patrice Evra appear to shattered after reports that he will sign a new contract with Madrid shortly.
But game changers? A few years ago, you might have said Nani, but thirteen appearances for Manchester United last year tell their own story about his career progression, while Raul Meireles’ form seems to be inversely proportional to the size of his beard now he’s in the Turkish Süper Lig.
It feels reductive, even Lovejoy-esque to say it, but if we’re going to see Portugal get out of the group, it’s probably going to involve having to sit through more of the above. Whether that’s reason enough to keep one’s fingers crossed for another flare up of that left patellar tendinosis is a dependent on how inadequate the above makes you feel, I suppose.
Manager: James Kwesi Appiah Special Skill: Self-proclaimed under-dog. We’ll see.
Shirt: Essentially a patterned frock.
Slogan: “Black Stars: Here to illuminate Brazil..”
The fact is that even if black or dark stars’ existence had been proven, they would, by their very nature, fail to emit light. So even if Ghana tear up the table, thrash Germany, Portugal and the United States, floodlight failure will remain a real threat.
Can they do it? Well, romantic Ramblers will tell you they can, and will argue until they’re blue in the face that there’s always an upset in a major tournament. They’ll then turn a bit pink when they advise you that not one, but two of Abedi Pele’s sons, Jordan and Andre Ayew, will feature at some point and that fate owes Ghana a break after their upsetting exit from South Africa 2010.
They may have a point, even they have got crisps in their beards. With Michael Essien, Portsmouth Hall-of-Famer Sulley Muntari and Kevin Prince-Boateng all named in the squad the Ghanians are hardly short of self-belief and talent, which may be sufficient to propel them past Portugal if the injuries reach critical mass and the USA sans LandyCakes, but they’ll probably run out of gas before they get anywhere close to bettering their last World Cup placing.
At least we’ll get a chance to see Gyan. Unless you’re an ardent follower of Sunderland Reserves or UAE football, you probably won’t have seen hide nor hair of him since that post penalty facepalm.
Don’t worry though. He’s been having a blinding time.
Manager: Jurgen Klinsmann Special Skill: He can fly.
Shirt: All white. But the away shirt is nicer.
Slogan: “United by team, driven by passion.”
Look away now, Sunderland fans.
Andrey Arshavin’s performance for Russia in the opening game of EURO 2012 was something of a revelation for Arsenal fans, and Sunderland fans also can look forward to the same confusion if Jozy Altidore carries his cracking qualification form into the tournament proper.
The striker scored just two goals in thirty appearances for the Black Cats last season, but a flurry of goals including two decisive strikes vs. Nigeria earned him a striker’s berth ahead of Landon Donovan.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to leave the USMNT’s golden boy at home has been met with considerable criticism, not least because if Altidore suffers a relapse of his Sunderland form, the team will have to rely on internationally inexperienced San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski and AZ Alkmaar’s Aron Johannsson.
Will the experience and recent good form of Clint Dempsey be sufficient to pull them through? Against weaker opposition perhaps, but with just under half of the squad playing their club football in the MLS, it’s difficult to see how they’ll make their way through the group unscathed.
Still, if all else fails, they have DeAndre Yedlin in defence. His selection of unmanageable hairdos alone will scare the living crap out of most strikers.
Yes. Even Lukas Podolski.
By Kelly Welles
World Cup Crib Sheet: Group F
Wait. Is that slogan a trick? Are they trying to lull us into a false sense of security? We’ve all read the stats - we know that no European team has ever won the tournament when it’s been held on South American soil, ya da ya da - so why the straightforward statement of self-determination?
Keep it on the down-low, then explode out of the traps and hammer everyone 5-0? Has Lionel Messi’s indifferent run of form at the latter stage of last season also been a ruse? Oh god. Are we overthinking this?
Alright, it’s unlikely that anyone will underestimate Argentina, given that their attacking options alone read like a who’s who of footballing genius. Before the rest of the group even start thinking about the diminutive Barca midfielder, there’s the small matter of containing Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Angel Di Maria. Not to mention the follicular anarchist that is Inter’s Rodrigo Palacio.
They’ve been banging ‘em in with aplomb all season, and we have no reason to believe they’re going to dial it down when a relatively kind draw has made the path to the final that much easier to navigate.
Tissue! Dirty boy!
So where are the weaknesses? Well, despite that terrifying wealth of talent, tournaments are won and lost on the form of a player like Lionel Messi and he hasn’t looked the sharpest in the weeks leading up to the finals.
His main contribution in the 0-0 draw in a friendly against Romania a few weeks ago was to throw up on the pitch again and while his health issues haven’t prevented him from playing, he failed to score in Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, although he had a free kick come off the post.
Whoops, sorry Liverpool fans.
When viewed in conjunction with the flaws in defensive positions, and the kind of “never going to get a better chance to win it” pressure that did for Liverpool last season, it’s easy to get carried away and write them off.
Do so at your peril though. Javier Mascherano is more than capable of marshalling a defence, Pablo Zabaleta is no slouch either and a poor season by Lionel Messi’s standards involves scoring 41 goals for his club.
That boy, eh?
That’s quite categorically not a dragon, is it?
Now that’s more like it! Imagine how brilliant it would be if, come game time, Argentina take to the pitch to face an ACTUAL team of dragons. It’s not going to happen, but just think about, it yeah?
Back in the real world, the draw has also been kind to Bosnia-Herzegovina, but internal wranglings could present challenges to the only tournament débutantes this time around, despite their finishing qualifying at the top of the group with a shed load of goals.
Fans of Premier League football will be familiar with Edin Dzeko’s tendency to speak his mind and the Manchester City forward was quick to condemn fans’ negative response to the team after they lost 2-0 to Egypt back in March.
Fortunately, there is quality throughout the team and if they perform even half as well as they did in qualifying, you can be sure the hugely patriotic fans will be right behind them. You’ll already have seen Asmir Begovic’s proactive build-up play but Bayer Leverkusen’s Emir Spahić, Roma’s Miralem Pjanić and Vedad Ibisevic from Stuttgart have all proved themselves this season.
Keep your eye out for Nigeria vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina on 21st June. That, dear Ramblers, could be the decisive fixture in the group. Dragon suits or no dragon suits.
It’s a testament to Carlos Queiroz’ managerial nous that he was able to haul the Iranian national team across the qualifying line, but even with a comparatively kind draw it will probably prove too much to ask to have him to take them any further.
The heady days of Ali Daei are long since passed and unless something inexplicable happens in their opening fixture (like Nigeria failing to turn up for the game), the most we can look forward to is Adrian Chiles having an absolute mare with his pronunciation.
Reza Ghoochannejhad, Hashem Beykzadeh & Sepahan Isfahan, we look forward to your participation with interest!
Only sings when he’s winning, apparently.
Pressure is a feature of tournament football, but extra focus is probably required when failure could mean suspension of the national team. Long time Ramblers may remember the hilarity/horror that greeted President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to test the theory of whether football and politics mix after Nigeria failed to win a game in South Africa and crashed out. Then FIFA piped up and the whole situation evolved from farce to full-on headdesk festival.
It’s a wonder they still exist as a sporting entity, really.
The bad news is that Goodluck Jonathan remains in power, but the things appear to have settled down a bit since Stephen Keshi took the helm and under his command the Super Eagles beat Burkina Faso to the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013. Qualification for the World Cup was bumpy but the quality and experience Keshi has to call on should be sufficient to ensure that Mr Jonathan shouldn’t be forced into making any irrational decisions.
Not to do with football, anyway. Lolz.
By Kelly Welles
PWEI: Requiem for a game
If you’re of a certain age, you probably spent a reasonably proportion of your youth hurtling around the dancefloor at your provincial town’s only ‘indie’ night, dressed in ridiculous trousers, ‘dancing’ to records by Pop Will Eat Itself.
Some years later, you’ll have contemplated the pointlessness of your existence as former member Clint Mansell’s theme to ‘Requiem For A Dream’ soared through your conciousness.
If you haven’t enjoyed either of these life experiences, you have today to do so. Then, having confirmed the creative brilliance of PWEI’s oeuvre, you can settle down and listen to what happens when they turn their attention to the injustices perpetrated by football’s governing body in the name of the World Cup and Brazil’s right to oppose it.
You know, before it gets banned and they end up in the FIFA court charged with treason or attempted Sepp-icide.
By Kelly Welles
A psychic elephant? No one saw that coming…
It’s been claimed that between 2006 and 2012, Nelly the Psychic Elephant correctly predicted 30 out of a possible 33 match outcomes. This means she was doing it well before the whole ‘zoo animals predicting football scores’ hysteria broke out, spearheaded by an irritating cephalopod who shall, for the purposes of this post, remain nameless.
We’re not buying it, anyway. If she was that good, she’d have seen him coming, surely?
By Kelly Welles
Raith Rovers: On me head, son
That’s the fate of many an unfortunate victim in crime writer Val McDermid’s fictional world and now me (not literally, that would be hideous) upon discovery that her new shirt sponsorship deal with Raith Rovers looks like this.
The least I expect from the author of terrifying psychological fiction is an insistence upon a Getafe-inspired severed head on the inside.
Not a real one, obviously. That would be terribly distracting during a game.
By Kelly Welles
Image via raithrovers.net.
England: More blood, less pressure
We’re all familiar with the collective disappointment an England campaign can have, but apparently our trauma has repercussions in areas far removed from the pub and sofa.
According to NHS Blood and Transplant, figures collected during a previous tournament confirmed that blood donations on England match days fell by up to 5%, and up to 12% on the day following an England match. As a gentle reminder that transfusion requirements do not plummet at the same rate as our expectations, the organisation have recruited ex-Arsenal and England defender Lee Dixon and ITV pundit Adrian Chiles to recreate iconic England moments - Dixon as Terry Butcher during the 1989 World Cup Qualifier in Stockholm and Chiles as Stuart Pearce after scoring that penalty in the Euro ’96 quarter-final against Spain.
Chiles, whose proximity to Roy Keane on the ITV sofa have seen him perilously close to shedding blood for the cause on numerous occasions, managed to escape the fate for his photo, but remained thoroughly enthused.
“Donating blood is easier than watching a football match. It takes less time and, depending on your team’s performance, it’s a much less stressful experience all round. Plus you get to lie down for a bit and save lives. Thousands of patients rely on blood donations to survive so I would encourage people to just do it. There’s no quicker or easier way to be a bit of a hero.”
Lying down? No quicker or easier way to be a hero? Has there ever been an enterprise more befitting a Rambler? If you’re still in doubt, think about this. NHS Blood & Transplant figures state that every blood donation saves or improves the lives of up to three people. This means that if only 1% (ONE PERCENT) of our current Twitter following donate, over one and a half thousand people could benefit.
That’s actual science and maths. See how inspirational blood donation can be?
By Kelly Welles
Head on over to blood.co.uk for more info and to make a booking.
World Cup Crib Sheet: Group E
Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld Special Skill: Demob happy
Shirt: The kind of tight that makes you hope that Xherdan Shaqiri is in intensive training
Slogan: “FINAL STOP: 07-13-14 MARACANA!.”
There’s nothing like a bit of optimism to kick things off, but while Ottmar Hitzfeld intends to send his youthful squad out with all guns blazing for his last tournament in charge, one wonders whether a slogan announcing an expectation of making it to the final might be a touch too positive.
Still, while the majority of Switzerland’s players remain firmly under the radar, taking the piss out of their chances might be unwise given that they’re currently eighth in the FIFA rankings - higher than both England and Group E heavyweights France.
That’s not to say their campaign will be a cruise. If results run as expected, they could find themselves finishing in second place in Group E, leaving them with a knock out fixture against likely Group F winners Argentina. As we know from their 1-0 victory over Spain in 2010, they’re more than capable of creating an upset on their day, but against Argentina in a South American World Cup? There’s optimism, then there’s lunacy.
Squad wise, Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri is the man most are focussing on. His role as understudy to Robben and Ribery this season could have taught him all manner of terrifying techniques, but equally his match fitness and hunger could have atrophied on the bench. The magnificently monikered Granit Xhaka could instead be the boy most likely to be signed on a whim by a Premier League club after an epic tournament, his breakout season from defensive midfield helping propel Borussia Monchengladbach to a credible sixth place in last season’s Bundesliga.
As self-aware as anyone in football, Hitzfeld has attempted to deflect criticism of the ageing side that conspired to snatch group defeat from the jaws of victory in 2010 by running a rich, nourishing vein of youth through it. Despite their tender ages, Josip Drmić (1. FC Nürnberg), Mario Gavranović (FC Zürich) and Wolfsburg’s Ricardo Rodriguez have all had decent seasons, but before you slap all of your hard earned on Schweizer Nati at 125/1, remember that no European team has won the tournament when it’s been played on South American soil.
Switzerland, for all their bluster and good cheer, are unlikely to be the first.
Manager: Reinaldo Rueda Special Skill: Double agent
Shirt: Unnervingly see-through
Slogan: “One commitment, one passion, only one heart, this is for you Ecuador!.”
Generally, qualifying campaigns involving Ecuador have to be taken with a pinch of salt, as the altitude is usually sufficient to do for an away team before they’ve even set foot on the pitch. Argentina were the only team to take a point off Reinaldo Rueda’s men in Quito this time around, but any element of confusion can be cleared up with a glance at the away fixtures, of which they won none.
Aside from the twin pronged attacking wing play of Jefferson Montero and Antonio Valencia, Ecuador offer little in terms of eye catching players, but if France ease through as group winners, they may have the edge over Honduras in the battle for second. Reinaldo Rueda coached Honduras to World Cup 2010 qualification, meaning that not only does he have insider knowledge of the opposition, he may well be capable of miracles too.
Manager: Didier Deschamps Special Skill: Not Raymond Domenech.
Slogan: “Impossible is not a French word.”
It always pays to be wary of France in a major tournament. They’re either going to fail to launch and set eager onlookers aflame with rumour and recrimination (2002, 2010) or they’re going to go stratospheric, setting onlookers aflame with with rapture and recrimination (1998, 2006). Either way, we’ll probably all be on fire by the time their campaign comes in to land.
There’s already evidence of mechanical issues. Didier Deschamps’ decision to leave Samir Nasri on the beach prompted a sweary Twitter tirade from Nasri’s girlfriend, who is now the subject of legal action from both Deschamps and the France Football Federation. That’ll ensure he’s the first name on the teamsheet for future international fixtures.
In an effort to minimise unnecessary pressure on his squad in the build up, Deschamps responded to allegations that a brothel is situated just 500m from the French team base in Brazil by implying the only reason that the journalists who brought it up know about it is because they visit the same establishments.
Let’s just leave the off-pitch stuff to one side for a moment then. Paul Pogba’s excellent form with Juventus this season has propelled the ex-Manchester United starlet to the forefront of France’s World Cup campaign but there’s reason to be fearful all over the pitch. Hugo Lloris has had a lovely old season at Spurs, Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna are coming in off the back of an FA Cup win while Raphael Varane’s precocity in defence is the worst kept secret in football.
A good solid defence may be needed though. France’s front line might be packed with big names, but Olivier Giroud, Karim Benzema and Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann have had quieter seasons than they might have hoped for in a World Cup year. News that Franck Ribery’s selection might be in doubt due to his failure to recover from a back problem could be a double edged sword - while they will miss the control and width he brings to midfield, the absence of his influence in the dressing room may not be such a bad thing if rumours are to be believed.
They should storm this group, regardless. Anyone who remembers the Senegal game in 2002 will be wary of that ‘should’.
Manager: Luis Fernando Suarez Special Skill: Commitment to the Honduran cause
Shirt: An outsider, but a lovely one.
Slogan: “We are one country, one nation, five stars on the heart.”
Assuming they’re not coming off the back of a shock pre-tournament victory against England, little is expected of Honduras in Brazil 2014. While the group may appear a walkover for the more established footballing nations, this is only the third time Honduras have qualified for the tournament in the history of the world ever, and they’re unlikely to better their record from South Africa which saw them exit at the group stages.
Two clean sheets in ten games is a qualifying record they’ll want to leave in the locker, but they did draw vs. Switzerland in 2010, and just one result like that will play merry hell with the final standings.
They also boast the fabulously monikered Carlo Costly upfront and you’ll all have admired Roger Espinoza’s lustrous locks pelting up and down the wing for Wigan. Add Hull City’s Maynor Figueroa and Juan Carlos García (also Wigan) and they suddenly look way more fanciable than you first thought.
Well. A bit.
By Kelly Welles
adidas: How far is too far?
“How far will you go? I will give my heart for my country.”
It’s lovely to see everybody making an effort. But while I’m no medical woman, I fail to see how this is going to help win a football match.
Put it away and wash your hands, for goodness sake.
By Kelly Welles
Image via Twitter.
Wait. Is that even legal?
Joey Barton: A swing & a miss
World Cup Crib Sheet: Group D
Manager: Óscar Tabárez Special Skill: Persistence
Shirt: City blue, snug fit.
Slogan: “Three million dreams … Let’s go Uruguay.”
Despite a knee operation after a hectic and ultimately disappointing season for Liverpool, Luis Suarez remains confident that he will be fit enough to save any headers that might come his way during the 2014 World Cup. But before you start investigating anti-healing rituals involving kitchen-ware, just remember that Tabárez isn’t exactly short of strikers.
Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan are both fit and available, and while it could be argued that Forlan hasn’t been playing at a ‘competitive’ level since moving to Cerezo Osaka, both remain lethal in the right circumstances.
Elsewhere on the pitch they’re not so fortunate. Liverpool’s Sebastian Coates has received a call up from Nacional, where he has been recuperating from knee ligament damage sustained last August, while the Diegos of Lugano and Godin had a calamitous record as a centre back partnership during qualifying.
Maybe if Suarez doesn’t recover in time, they could stick him in goal. He’s got a proven track record in World Cups, after all.
Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto Special Skill: Roamer
Shirt: Red with a novel blue stripe.
Slogan: “My passion is football, my strength is my people, my pride is Costa Rica.”
As an England fan, Costa Rica are the least threatening team we’re likely to face in Group D, which instantly transforms them a terrifying prospect.
Are we right to be nervous? Well, they finished runners-up in their qualifying group; a notably mean defence conceding just seven goals in the latter stages, but there’s a massive Bryan Oviedo shaped hole in their left side after the Everton man suffered a broken leg in an FA Cup game vs. Stevenage in January. Brian Ruiz may or may not be a threat, depending on how he’s recovered from his poisonous stint at Fulham, while Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas is already attracting attention from the big boys. And birds, it seems.
Oh, and manager Jorge Luis Pinto is apparently Paulo Wanchope’s uncle.
Having deliberated, cogitated and digested this random collection of facts for at least thirty seconds, we’ll make no firm predictions except to say that England’s best hope against the cruel mistress of fate is that Uruguay run Los Ticos ragged in their opening fixture, leaving the door ajar for England to stick a few in and bump up that all important goal difference.
Oh, and remain positive at all times.
Manager: Roy Hodgson Special Skill:Pressure magnet
Shirt: Ice white. L’homme du sport, if you will.
Slogan: “The dream of one team, the heartbeat of millions!”
Since our youth, we’ve dreamed of an England team who play scintillating, attacking football, run their legs off for the shirt and emerge, if not victorious, utterly knackered having left everything on the pitch.
Sadly, while occasional flashes of hope have been noted, our memories of recent tournaments largely consist of acts of petulance, inexplicable lethargy, excuses and embarrassingly predictable exits. There’s no real reason to expect anything different this time - the location, the weather and a tough round of opening fixtures all present their own unique challenges - but despite this, despite the agony, embarrassment and inevitability of our fate, we still hold onto that most English of emotions. Hope.
Hope that Steven Gerrard’s new, deeper lying role will transform him from wandering star to linchpin. Hope that youth will flourish under the hot sun, that Roy will take a risk and the magic that Southampton and Liverpool fans were lucky enough to witness week in week out last season will translate to the green, green (probably dyed) grass of Brazil.
Hope of screaming ‘RICKIE LAMBERT CELEBRATE’ at the television, before Wazzles throws off whatever has been stalking his international form for the last ten years and score a hat-trick.
He’s got a personal trainer, y’know. Could happen.
Manager: Cesare Prandelli Special Skill: Family man
Shirt: Azure blue. What else?!
Slogan: “Let’s paint the FIFA World Cup dream blue.”
There are many questions surrounding the Italian national team right now, but only one is troubling real football aficionados. Will Antonio “no honestly, I’ve given up pastry” Cassano make Cesere Prandelli’s final 23 man squad? Reports suggest that Cassano, along with injury plagued Giuseppe Rossi will be fit enough, but it’s never just a question of that with the Golden Tapir winning striker and you know it.
His habit of only opening his mouth to change feet has seen him forced to apologise for stupid remarks regarding homosexuality, arguing with Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni and royally pissing off fans of current club Parma earlier this year by stating he’d rather be back at Sampdoria.
Despite all this, his form for Parma has been good & an announcement that he’s lost 10kg as a result of giving up focaccia has earned him a place in Prandelli’s 30 man preliminary squad - a reward that evaded Dani Osvaldo and the 17-year-old hotly tipped to replace Gigi Buffon, Simone Scuffet. Rumour has it that Prandelli won’t be releasing info on the final 23 until the deadline - June 2nd - but don’t panic if he doens’t make it.
There’s more than enough madman in that line-up to cover him for the next ten years.
By Kelly Welles
Umbro: Arthouse advertising
If Nike are the Michael Bay of boot advertising - loud and fast, featuring shiny women and brash, buff (La Beouf?) boys running about demonstrating an uncanny ability to master baffling technology - then Umbro are the Lars von Trier.
Their latest ad features the quiet introspection of a man preparing to open a package containing his new UX-1s - Umbro’s latest silo and the boot Joe Hart will be sporting in Brazil later this month. It’s an unnerving and startlingly accurate insight into the world of the boot porn enthusiast, a world of reverence and ritual rarely seen outside of football journalism.
Or so I’m told, anyway. Ahem.
By Kelly Welles
Fernando Ricksen: Fortuna All Star
Rather more famous for his off-pitch antics than anything he achieved during his career with Rangers & Zenit St Petersburg, Fernando Ricksen’s testimonial was nonetheless a deeply sad and moving affair.
The Dutch defender/midfielder was diagnosed with Motor Neurone disease last year and the debilitating effects of the incurable condition shocked those who attended the release of Ricksen’s autobiography earlier this month.
The testimonial match last Sunday was between Ricksen’s former club Fortuna Sittard and a Fortuna All Star eleven that featured the likes of Mark van Bommel, Anatoli Tymoshchuk & Ronald de Boer, as well as the man himself. The final score was 5-2 to the All Stars with Ricksen scoring a penalty before he was surrounded by team mates in emotional scenes. The All Star kit, designed for the event, will be auctioned off with proceeds being donated to the ALS Foundation.
Fox have prohibited embedding on sites other than YouTube, so please click this link to watch the footage.
As always, our thoughts and prayers are with Fernando Ricksen, his friends and family during this difficult time.
By Kelly Welles
Images via copafootball.
World Cup Crib Sheet: Group C
Manager: José Pékerman Special Skill: Tinker man
Shirt: Classic yellow with blue pinstripe.
Slogan: “Here travels a nation, not just a team.”
Although lauded for taking the national team to the World Cup for the first time since 1998, joy in Colombia is tempered by José Pékerman’s persistent experimentation with line-ups - including the omission of star players including Radamel Falcao - even when a previously selected side has performed well.
The knee might be knackered but his teeth are just fine.
They are probably right to be concerned. In the run up to the tournament, Pékerman has hinted that his habit of tinkering with his starting line-ups are less to do with uncertainty and more about a flair for the dramatic. When questioned over the selection of Falcao, whose fitness is in doubt after he suffered knee ligament damage with Monaco in January, Pékerman told reporters: “I’ll wait until the last day, until the last hour, the last minute.”
He may even wear a cape to make the announcement.
In fairness to the former Argentina manager, drama and intrigue have been as much of a presence in the Colombian national team dressing room as Carlos Valderrama’s spare wigs. In the late 80s and early 90s the team enjoyed fervent backing from a population tired of the negative stereotypes perpetuated in the media about Colombia and performances reflected that pride. A 5-0 victory over Argentina in 1993, René Higuita’s much attempted but never bettered scorpion kick and their very own golden generation - Rincon, Asprilla, Escobar and the free scoring Arnoldo Iguarán.
The importance of the national team’s performances to the country was to eventually tarnish the gold, though. On 2 July 1994, Andres Escobar was shot dead in Medellín, with many believing that his own goal against the United States in the World Cup that year was a motivating factor.
Can Pékerman and his squad harness the national pride that inspired the Colombia team of the 90s and ride it out of the group stages, upsetting the current 24 carat golden boys in the process?
We really hope so. If those guys can thrill us like they did back then, a new generation is in for a treat like no other.
Manager: Fernando Santos Special Skill: Greek god
Shirt: White with blue collar. Austere.
Slogan: “Heroes play like Greeks.”
In 2004, Greece won the European Championships, demonstrating exactly what could be achieved in football with teamwork, persistence and no expectation of success whatsoever. It wasn’t pretty and didn’t catapult Greece to tournament contender status, but the fact remains that they have won more major tournaments than England in the last forty years and therefore criticising them is a bit rich.
Thirty-seven year old Giorgos Karagounis is still wearing the captain’s armband (they’ll have to prise that off his cold, dead arm) which is, in a nutshell, indicative of Greece’s chances. While a long and distinguished career will be remembered fondly, most of it is behind him and we can only hope he’s not too knackered to contribute to his legacy.
Other notable picks include Celtic’s Samaras, Roma’s Vassilis Torossidis, Dortmund’s Papastathopoulos and Kostas Mitroglou, whose form may or may not be affected by a ‘difficult’ first season at Fulham. A big miss (literally & figuratively) will be Schalke’s tractor-like defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos, who, while young, is a worthy addition to any defensive line-up, but was omitted after failing to recover from shoulder problems.
Manager: Sabri Lamouchi Special Skill: Ego management
Shirt: Orange. And no, don’t bother unless you’re ripped.
Slogan: “Elephants charging towards Brazil.”
Kalou. Drogba. Zokora. Toure. Toure. Gervinho. Bony. On paper they look like any football team’s worst nightmare, but despite earning innumerable club accolades between them, the stars of Ivory Coast have yet to transcend the sum of their parts in the World Cup.
Sabri Lamouchi is the man charged with upending their unenviable record of failing to make it out of the group stages in their previous appearances and it seems that for once fate is smiling upon them - previous draws have seen the team grouped with the likes of Argentina, Netherlands, Portugal and Brazil but providing they perform as we know they can, they have the talent and wherewithal to compete against Greece and Japan, and maybe even Colombia.
Fate saw fit to help Didier Drogba achieve his dream of winning the Champions League with Chelsea in the latter stages of his club career; can we expect her to stick a fickle oar into Group C too?
Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni Special Skill: Won’t be told
Shirt: Traditional blue with rising sun motif.
Slogan: “Samurai, the time has come to fight!.”
First to qualify for Brazil 2014, Japan nevertheless stuttered a little during their qualifying campaign, until they settled into Alberto Zaccheroni’s playing style. The Italian, whose management record reads like a who’s who of Serie A, favoured a 3-4-3 formation during his time there and transplanted it directly upon appointment as Japan’s national team coach in 2010.
Whether it worked well enough in qualifying to maintain the formation in the tournament proper has yet to be seen, with some speculating that Zaccheroni may revert to a more traditional 4-2-3-1 for the group stages, if only to shore up the defence. Zaccheroni himself is convinced of his side’s capacity to challenge, regardless of this persistent doubt.
“If we can play to the best of our ability then we can be a threat. I am confident.” he told Reuters. “Obviously getting off to a good start is important.”
They’ll face Ivory Coast on 14th June, so that’ll help.
By Kelly Welles
Real Madrid: It’s not exactly Diamond Lights, is it?
As we have long suspected, when you give Real Madrid nice things to play with, this is what happens.
On the plus side, photographic evidence reveals that Pepe did not stoop to wearing shinpads for the celebration. Although that might be more to do with the indecent haste with which he disposed of his tracksuit after the final whistle.
By Kelly Welles
World Cup Crib Sheet: Group B
Manager: Vicente del Bosque Special Skill: See Brazil
Shirt: La Furia Roja. With gold accessories.
Slogan: “Inside our hearts, the passion of a champion.”
With tiki-taka dead and buried, possession football as redundant as the 1-2-7 formation and Captain Carles ‘Caveman’ Puyol bowing out of footie with knee trouble, pundits have been cautious when discussing Spain’s chances of picking up a fourth consecutive major trophy. Especially when you add that no team from outside the Americas has ever won a World Cup when the tournament has been held on that particular continent.
If we’re working on paper alone, there’s about as much chance of Iker Casillas lifting that balding smoothie of a cup as there is of Zlatan having a crisis of confidence.
But we can’t quite let it go. Usually when a team dominate so completely, neutrals eventually tire of their style, their constant presence and their happy smiling faces as they raise their arms aloft, run around with their beautiful babies and remind us once again that our own team, in comparison is a national embarrassment.
But aside from the BBC pundits covering South Africa 2010 (an exception that pretty much proves the rule) if you genuinely love football, there is nothing more entrancing than watching a team like that operate: the metronomic “Pum pum pum pum,” of the ball moving between Xavi and Iniesta, the seeminly effortless control and ability to place the ball to feet exhibited by every player on the pitch including the effing goalkeeper, it’s mesmerising and inspiring and humbling and a million other adjectives that have all been used before.
Can they do it again? Probably. Will they do it again? That’s a tougher question. Is there the will? The collective energy that drives them to work as a team when seasonal feuds continue to pick away at the stitches?
The only thing we can be absolutely sure of is that it will be brilliant finding out.
Manager: Louis van Gaal Special Skill: Big balls
Slogan: “Real men wear orange.”
First up, we must congratulate everyone hailing from the regions of Nether for the best tournament slogan so far. In case you’ve not heard, FIFA held a contest, the ‘best’ entries were selected and will be painted on the side of the team buses throughout the tournament. We can only assume that someone, whether it be the people of the Netherlands or some nefarious scamp at FIFA with a grudge, wanted to see their team driving about with “Real men wear orange” emblazoned across their mode of transport.
And for that we shall be eternally grateful.
Anyhoo, onto the team. The Oranje are always in some form of disarray before a major tournament - the question is not if they will implode, but when and how far we can expect the debris to travel. They managed to hold it together quite successfully in South Africa, taking the Spanish to extra time before finally conceding to Andres Iniesta, but failed to consolidate in EURO 2012, crashing out through the back door of Group B with only two goals scored, five conceded and zero points on the board.
Qualifying for Brazil was a breeze - joint top goalscorers, thrashing Hungary 8-1, first European team to qualify ya da ya da ya - but cracks are already visible on their shiny orange hull. Kevin Strootman has been ruled out with a knee injury, Robin van Persie has had a ‘difficult’ season at Manchester United and with the best will in the world, if ole’ Big Balls himself hasn’t got at least a third of an eye on his new gig, we can be the first to confirm that he indeed has the emotional capacity of a T-1000.
On the other hand, it’s always worth keeping an eye out for the likes of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar & Wesley Sneijder as they strut their funky stuff, and van Gaal’s formation for their recent friendly vs. Ecuador involved three centrebacks; something that we at the Ramble love to see.
Basically, watch them, enjoy them, but always be aware that they could go off in your face at any given moment.
Manager: Jorge Sampaoli Special Skill: Channelling Bielsa
Shirt: Hot red.
Slogan: “CHI CHI CHI!, LE LE LE! Go Chile.”
If the fact that manager Jorge Sampaoli has taken what Marcelo Bielsa did with the Chilean national team and expanded on it isn’t reason enough to sit up and take notice of this 50/1 shout, then a quick glance at the team sheet should.
The presence of Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Gary Medel attests to the surging attack mentality (in Medel’s case, quite literally) developed by Bielsa until his departure 2011 and maintained by Sampaoli, who’s so confident of his side’s talents, he’s gone on the record with his expectations for the summer.
“It’s safe to say that Chile are contenders,” he said with unnerving optimism, late last year. “History says that in World Cups people always list the same favourites and names, but we will be as competitive as possible. We have to want it more than opponents, to surpass them in spirit. We will go mano a mano against anyone. Our idea is to surprise opponents who are used to having opponents play against them in a certain way.”
Mano a mano? Wow. They’ll definitely get out of the group with that kind of approach, assuming some of them remain on the pitch long enough.
Manager: Ange Postecoglou Special Skill: Home boy, ladies man.
Shirt: Same as Brazil’s, only with a collar. Optimistic?
Slogan: “Socceroos: Hopping our way to history.”
Looking at this group dispassionately, Australia are nailed on for the whipping boys wooden spoon. The joy of qualifying as runners-up in their group was swiftly tempered by two consecutive 6-0 defeats to Brazil and France, leading to the departure of Holger Osieck and the appointment of a man whose only triumphs lie in the Australian domestic leagues.
The old guard, whose experience at international level has proven crucial in past major tournaments is looking a little creaky - Tim Cahill isn’t exactly blazing a trail for the NY Red Bulls with one goal in seven appearances and Lucas Neill has been left out altogether.
Postecoglou is instead relying on youth to propel them forward, Preston North End’s Bailey Wright, Swindon Town’s Massimo Luongothe & Newcastle United’s Curtis Good all make the preliminary squad, led by Crystal Palace’s Mile Jedinak.
Essentially, it’ll be a miracle if they claw themselves out of the group. But this is football. Weird shit happens all the time..
By Kelly Welles
A rum old time was had by all…
We know the Brazuca is the most tested football ever. Largely because in our capacity as edgy football pundits of the moment, we’ve sat through about 10,000 videos of various people doing just that.
For this reason alone, we can confidently say that this one, featuring rum magnate Captain Morgan and his team of swarthy knaves, is our favourite.
So much so, in fact, that we’re going to save up for a Brazuca, climb into the Ramble-mobile, set a course for a beach and re-enact the whole darn shebang for our (and your) entertainment.
Anyone know where you can rent a cannon by the hour?
By Kelly Welles
United Passions: Revisionist theory?
Formed in 1904, FIFA’s humble beginnings can be traced back to a rented room in Paris. Four broke blokes with passion and a dream to unite the world of football.
They had no money, but through hard, work, guile and a willingness to bend the rules to get the job done, they put together a football tournament. The world was against them, hell, even fate was against them, but by god they went and did it. The World Cup was born.
Without them, we’d all be playing netball.
Alright, I may have tweaked the synopsis of ‘United Passions’ a touch, but is it wrong to be sceptical about a movie premièring at the Cannes film festival this week, starring as Joao Havelange, Gerard Depardieu as Jules Rimet & Tim Roth as Sepp Blatter?
Is it wrong to assume it’ll be a rose tinted retrospective, given that reports claim that £16m of the £19m budget was supplied by FIFA and Big Sepp had a tweak of the script?.
Y’know, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.
H/T @Nickperson from the Ramble Forum.
Manchester United: Our Survey Says
Crap run of form = managerial sacking. It’s an inevitability of an environment in which good results equate to more money and poor results equate to less.
If you’ve read any books about the game written by insiders in the last ten years, you’ll already know that there are many contributing factors to a loss of form (not least factions in dressing rooms) besides a manager’s tactical nous, but it’s always the manager who is sacrificed to the gods of unemployment. He’s a snapshot of club culture at the time, and his dismissal is symbolic of the board ‘listening’ to the fans.
Rarely can we report that a scientific study backs up our misguided contentions, but please, sound the airhorn. According to those clever peeps at Sheffield Hallam University, data collected from 2003/4 to 2012/2013 Premier League seasons and correlated with points data from the same period concludes that clubs in the top half of the table “saw no significant difference in their position after making a [managerial] change.”
Indeed, the findings were so significant that the authors “warn top-flight clubs striving for a place in Europe or challenging for the title, [that] ‘managerial change is unadvisable’”
There’s a whole bunch of other observations involving how new appointments can work for clubs in the lower half of the table which you can read about here, but we’re quite satisfied with the fact that sciunz has steered one of our speculative punts from the halfway line into the net while simultaneously hinting that we can probably look forward to another season of mayhem and intrigue at Old Trafford.
... and the satirical t-shirt.
Sorry United fans, but your club has been among the elite in England for longer than many Ramblers have been alive. We’ll have one dig for every year Sir Alex was in charge and then leave you alone.
By Kelly Welles
H/T 101greatgoals for the van Gaal pic.
World Cup Crib Sheet: Group A
And so begins our World Cup coverage. You can expect more of this over the coming weeks, you lovely Rootball Fumblers, you.
Manager: Luis Felipe Scolari. Special Skill: He is The Walrus.
Shirt: The iconic yellow and green. You know you already have your eye on one.
Slogan: “Brace yourselves! The Sixth is coming!”
The slogan might be a little optimistic, given that their preparation for the tournament consists of no competitive games since June 2013 and their manager has “been named as a formal suspect in a tax fraud investigation” but y’know. Home advantage and all that.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, they’re probably right to be at least eyeing up the mantelpiece with a view to clearing a space. Despite episodes of civil unrest during the Confederations Cup, A Seleção stormed through the group stages, beating Mexico 2-0 and Uruguay 2-1 in the process before flattening Spain 3-0 in the final.
As always with Brazilian sides, the talent is there; it simply depends on whether Scolari can tune them into firing at the same time. Brazilian pitches have a tendency to make Neymar unsteady on his feet, and while location alone is likely to ensure the refs reward him for it, other sides will be prepared and he may find himself marked out of games.
Or killed, if fellow forward Hulk falls on him.
On paper, the midfield and defensive line-ups look terrifying. David Luiz, Oscar, Ramires, Dani Alves and Willian have all represented in their domestic leagues this season but as England have so miserably proved in recent tournaments, season hangovers are heavy and since none of the aforementioned has had a straightforward run-in, they’re bound to be feeling the fatigue, mentally if not physically.
Then, of course, there’s the Luiz factor. It can already be seen in (and around) the dressing room - both Willian & Jo are sporting similarly inflated afros – but has The Geezer’s propensity for howling errors also been absorbed by his teammates?
It’s the question on every ‘unofficial’ street vendors mind as they ponder their purchase orders, people.
Manager: Niko Kovač.Special Skill: A decent swing.
Shirt: Picnic blanket. Nom nom nom.
Slogan: “ With fire in our hearts, for Croatia all as one!”
Let’s get the difficult news out of the way first. Croatia are no longer led by a man who, with his band Rawbeau, wrote and recorded a song called ‘Fiery Madness’ to support their national team in EURO 2008.
Come on. Stay strong. Ahem.
After failing to emerge from the group stages of EURO 2012 (probably because he didn’t write a soft rock accompaniment), Ramble favourite Slaven Bilic departed the Croatian NT for pastures new and can currently be found terrorising the pub circuit in Turkey. Assuming Rawbeau have travelled, that is.
Former Bayern Munich midfielder Kovac took over the role after a brief but thrilling stint by Igor Štimac saw form plummet to the point where they almost failed to qualify for the tournament at all, and having steered them through a potentially awkward play-off vs. Iceland, his next job is to restore confidence to a team boasting the likes of Luka Modric, Mario Mandžukić and former Arsenal striker Eduardo but lacking strength in depth.
He’s the second youngest manager in the tournament and the least qualified, but the fans love him and he is tremendously handsome.
The efficacy of these attributes is reflected in the current odds for Croatia to win (175/1) but goddamn it, this is a World Cup. Let the handsome happen.
Manager: Miguel Herrera Special Skill: Boundless optimism.
Shirt: Green & pleasant. Standard, really.
Slogan: “ Always united, always Aztecas”
It’s been a pretty good tournament build-up for Oribe Peralta. The Mexico striker scored two goals in the final of the London Olympics to beat Brazil to the gold medal, was voted 2013’s CONCACAF Player of the Year and a lovely fat contract with Club America was signed and sealed before a ball is kicked in anger.
He’ll be in fine fettle for sure, but his cracking form was most certainly not reflected in his side’s qualification for the World Cup – they had to rely on a favour from an old adversary to scrape through to the play-offs - and while they dispatched New Zealand with ease over two legs, it’s fair to assume their previous flailing about will not be forgotten easily.
“GOOOOAAAAAAL The US of A PUTS us in the playoffs!!!!! USA! It is because of the USA that we are being placed in the playoffs ...BECAUSE OF THEM , NOT DUE TO YOU. Not any of you in the green shirts ....IT WAS THEM, NOT YOU! NOT YOU AND YOUR INFAMY….NOT YOU AND YOUR MORONS/PUNKS….”
Manager: Volker Finke Special Skill: He looks like a cross between Boris Johnson & Uncle Fester. So there’s that.
Kit: Don’t look. Seriously.
Slogan: “A lion remains a lion”
A lion does indeed always remain a lion.
It’s a crap time for an existential crisis, but because we’ve read more or less everything Dan Brown has written between us (we’re not saying we liked all of it, before you start) we’ve deciphered this cryptic message and can exclusively reveal that although they haven’t managed to persuade Roger Milla out of retirement again, they’re still going to have a good old crack at the opposition.
Of course, given that the opposition consists of the teams profiled above, being actual lions might be of more benefit on the pitch than a positive mental attitude, but don’t write them off just yet. While the majority of Volker Finke’s experience has been gained in Germany, the big man is a student of African football, bringing several players in during his tenure at SC Freiberg before it was de rigeur to do so and earning credit for helping transform German football in the process.
It will, of course, be fascinating to see Samuel Eto’o perform in his fourth (count ‘em!) World Cup but youth will get an opportunity too in the form of 22-year-old Vincent Aboubakar, who scored sixteen for Lorient last season. Other familiar names include Spurs’ Benoît Assou-Ekotto, Barca’s Alex Song and QPR’s Stephane Mbia.
Our advice? If there’s any mucking about to be done with corner flags, it needs to be more Milla than Eto’o. Keep that in mind and everyone will be happy.
By Kelly Welles
Arsene Wenger & The Faustian Pact of Win
He had to do something. Nine years without a trophy, calls for him to leave the club having reached an all-time (but unerringly polite) high, being 2-0 down within eight minutes of kick-off.
But it was only afterwards, when he stood clad in what dry gear the kitman could gather from a dressing room that had been as liberally squirted with the celebratory juices as the manager himself, did we learn the true cost of that FA Cup.
Full Anglicisation. It went a little something like this…
“I’ll doing anything to win this Cup.” Arsene’s plaintive cry rose from the dugout, as Curtis Davies struck in the eighth minute.
“Anything?” asked a disembodied voice that may well have been the devil, but could just as easily have been Ray Winstone.
“How about being mercilessly pursued around the Wembley pitch by one of your most unhinged forwards who’s brandishing a bottle of champagne like a weapon, getting hurled in the air by your players until you beg for mercy and then having to put on a tracksuit top, sandals and socks for the post-match interviews because your school shirt and shoes are ruined.”
There is a short pause.
“Sandals AND socks? At the same time? Are you mental?”
“It’s an English tradition. And you have to get changed on the pitch too.”
There is another short pause, then a long exhalation of breath.
“OK. I’ll do it.”
Prepare yourselves, people. If England are to stand any chance of winning the World Cup, Roy Hodgson might have to dance with the devil. Or at least remove his trousers.
Either way, it ain’t going to be pretty.
By Kelly Welles
Cristiano Ronaldo: Bringing up the rear. Again
Lionel Messi poses in pants. Cristiano poses without pants, and just Irina Shayk protecting his modesty (and the rest of us from the sight of his shaven nethers).
We’re used to this competitive duelling now. But before the Portuguese can add ‘most disturbing ‘modelling’ photograph in the history of football’ to his honours, he might want to have a closer look at Leo’s uh… portfolio.
Ooh, that’s a setback in an otherwise staggeringly successful career, isn’t it?
By Kelly Welles
Images via twitter, bubblear.
Diego Maradona: Right hand man
“Little Francis, I say to you, I want to meet you and talk to you and I want to say many
things to you and tell you the things you have to do for the world. This way we will have
It’s not clear whether Pope Francis was actively seeking guidance on how to run his operation, but it’s unlikely he’ll be too perturbed by this impressive misunderstanding of an ex-footballer’s remit.
It isn’t as though El Diego can easily pop to Italy to demand a one-on-one.
By Kelly Welles
Image via sports-terra.com
Dzimtry Koub: Clever boy!
You’ve got 1500 people in the stadium to watch your ‘A Lyga game between Zalgiris & Trakai. It’s the 86th minute and you’re 1-0 down. You rise like salmon in mating in season to meet a corner and bang in an equaliser deserving of recognition on a far bigger stage. But how to ensure people see it outside of Vilnius County, Lithuania?
As I said. Clever boy.
By Kelly Welles
The Oscar Selfie: Sky Sports Edition
This is a terrible but somewhat inevitable entry to the Ellen Degeneres initiated “gather a bunch of rapidly dwindling in level of importance people and cram them into a cameraphone photo” meme thing.
Can we call it a nadir and leave it there? Please?
By Kelly Welles
France National Team Update: The dog nicked it
Yoann Gourcuff. So pretty.
A World Cup wouldn’t be a World Cup without a player sustaining a ludicrous injury that rules him out of his country’s squad, so a huge round of applause to the second most handsome Frenchman in football for making the run-in just that little bit more reassuring.
According to L’Equipe, Lyon midfielder Yoann Gourcuff “stumbled” whilst taking his pooch for a walk earlier this week and ”strained ligaments in his ankle”.
Yoann, Christian and um… Christian?
But it doesn’t stop there. The dog in question has been identified by one UK source as Christian – a black Labrador pictured with Gourcuff on a Twitter feed. Unfortunately, Gourcuff’s Dad is also in the photo, and what with him being called Christian as well, it’s fair to say a lot of important questions need to be answered.
When men were men and shorts were pornographic.
Did Gourcuff name his dog after his Dad? Has a usually reputable news outlet failed to do their research properly? Should we sue them for nicking our shtick? Is Herve Renard involved at all? Is there actually an injury or is this an attempt by the notoriously shy Frenchman to avoid a squad that also contains Franck Ribery?
The dog’s identity, as far as we can tell, remains unknown but we promise to keep you fully updated of developments.
By Kelly Welles
World Cup Boot Porn: Didn’t you know? There’s a war on!
There’s still a month to go before a foot touches a ball in anger (or at least mild petulance) but the fevered jostling necessary to ensure the right boot is on that foot for the world to see is already underway.
No doubt the loudest bang so far has come from Nike’s barracks, where a revolutionary weapon is being tested by the elite flying aces of the squadron.
The 2014 Mercurial Superfly boasts a Dynamic Fit Collar (or boot snood) which the brand claim will ensure the wearer will fly through the air with the greatest of ease, although the eternal question of whether any of Cristiano’s Portuguese colleagues will be able to keep up with him remains unanswered.
Puma broke cover this morning with a nod to the old school warriors of previous skirmishes, but don’t be fooled.
While the dual colourway on their evoPOWER Tricks boot - pink for the right foot, baby blue for the left - might summon disorganised images of Private Claridge rummaging through his car boot in search of a matching pair, the idea demonstrates the brand have an astute grasp on the concept of how to catch an otherwise indifferent eye in an oversaturated market.
Everyone will be wearing showy colours. But aside from Cesc Fabregas, Mario Balotelli and Marco Reus, who’s going to be wearing two?
As we saw last week, Warrior have already asserted their position as mounted undercover agents; their Gambler and Skreamer silos could go a long way in the tournament, assuming the now hackneyed view of Belgium as dark horses proves to be true and Marouane Fellaini finds the form that’s been eluding him all season, but they might not be alone.
Umbro have gone stealth too, their UX-1 silo features a gorgeous purple and yellow colourway that at first glance might not appear as eye-catching as the competition, but proved itself striking enough on the feet of Joe Hart and Andy Carroll during Manchester City & West Ham’s game last Sunday.
The Umbro team also have half an eye on safety - the upper of the UX-1 is made of a material stronger than Kevlar, which when you consider England’s propensity towards inconvenient foot injuries to key players in major tournaments, is vaguely comforting.
Will Joe Hart get shot in the foot in the quarter-finals? Unlikely, given Ashley Cole is staying at home, but you can never be sure, and we admire Umbro for their attention to detail.
And finally to adidas. Their Battle Pack launched on Monday, offering not only the likes of Lionel Messi, Dani Alves and Luis Suarez some terrifying photo opportunities, but a brilliantly subtle theme for this post.
As is now traditional, the pack upgrades all five of their company’s major silos - the F50, Nitrocharge, Predator, 11Pro & Messi signature boot - with “disruptive” and “aggressive” black and white stripes.
Inspired by the warpaint of native Brazilian warriors, the company are going all out to ensure that their boots are the ones the cameras are going to catch, and they will, assuming that their stable of players can stand up to the weight of expectation and perform.
Efficient preparation is one thing, but if your men don’t fight hard in the heat of battle, you’re going to lose the war. And no one in the world is going to care what they were wearing on their feet while they were doing it.
By Kelly Welles
Art with Kevin Keegan
EXHIBIT ‘A’: Grubby, disconcerting contribution to the vast pantheon of footballers who insist on flapping their (blatantly digitally enhanced) junk around for the sake of a few quid and an increased profile ahead of some sort of major tournament.
EXHIBIT ‘B’: Art.
By Kelly Welles
Original Oscar image via tumblr.
Five things we learned from the England Squad announcement…
1/ Wayne Rooney will be taking a physiotherapist on holiday with him to ensure he’s in top condition for the opening fixture. If it’s Jimmy Five Bellies, we’re mullered.
2/ It is never, ever appropriate to reference a major sponsor, even in a jokey way, during a presser. You shouldn’t be trying to corner a manager into saying something stupid or controversial before the tournament has even started and it makes you look like an absolute buffoon.
3/ Alan Hansen might as well have not bothered playing for Liverpool from 1977 to 1991. His only legacy to football is going to be that quote, which was removed from the cupboard, dusted down and dressed in a blue spangly costume for today’s outing.
4/ Phil Jones will not be fit for this World Cup. He’s been selected, but only because someone accidentally photoshopped his head onto someone else’s body for the Official FA Squad photo doofer. It’ll be rectified in due course, mark my words.
5/ We can TOTALLY win this tournament.
By Kelly Welles
Weekend Highlights: Sunday, ruddy Sunday.
Oh, Sky. How the Ramble have moaned and complained about your insistence on designating every single day of rest Super, regardless of whether anything remotely Super has happened or is going to happen.
You seem to have no idea that by doing this, you’re actively eroding our enjoyment of the very game you’re trying to promote, because you’re falsely raising our expectations.
It’s like insisting it’s Christmas every day. And Jim White is Santa.
There was a little magic in the air yesterday, it’s true.
Even with that pesky slip, and the unexpected impact Tony Pulis and Connor Wickham had on the title race taken into consideration, neutrals could settle down on their sofas with the possibility of a Super day of football unfolding; the righteous red half of Liverpool still in the race and capable of sneaking a hand onto the trophy while Manchester City were still admiring Manuel Pellegrini’s magnificent follicular formation.
But then West Ham touched the ball and we realised the chances of Sam Allardyce’s backfiring Datsun of a team beating City’s super sleek Lamborghini were roughly the same as Pete Donaldson receiving a call from Big Roy today.
Let’s not be completely unfair to the Home of Football, though. The scrolling scores and As It Stands table offered brief jabs of excitement – not least as they noted Newcastle’s emergence as a greying force after spending last couple of months in mourning for their absent manager.
Of course, relegating an already doomed Cardiff City and allowing Martin Skrtl to score an own goal isn’t *quite* as exciting as Super implies, so kudos to Shola Ameobi for trying to inject a bit of sparkle into what could be his swansong.
Congratulations, Manchester City. It wasn’t quite the thrill we were seeking but with our Soccer Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder-ed minds now turning to the World Cup, but it’s always nice to see quality players like Vincent Kompany and England’s own Joey Hart exploding with actual merriment.
As for the magic, we’ll defer it for now. We’ll almost certainly need it in June.
By Kelly Welles
Boot Porn: It’s getting hot in here
Warrior Superheat. Literally ‘on fire Ruud.’
Let’s be honest. Warrior have had some false starts in their attempts to enter the fiercely competitive market of footie apparel.
Fellaini & Gambler. Debuting on the pitch tomorrow.
It didn’t look promising for the Michigan based manufacturer.
But the times they are a’changin, peeps, and while Nike, adidas, Puma & Umbro busy themselves with woolly technology, boots with built-in socks and footwear visible from Pluto, Warrior are quietly building themselves a following, due in no small part to a growing stable of players who embody the company’s core values - presence, power and precision.
Vincent Kompany & Skreamer II.
With three new silos released this week and a World Cup around the corner, chances are we’re going to be seeing a lot more of these guys.
It’s about time we boot porn aficianados familiarised ourselves with their work, wouldn’t you say?
Footwear decisions of the rich and famous
We’re familiar with the work of Stephen Ireland. We know money can’t buy taste.
Nicklas Bendtner’s ‘No Mercy’ lace ups.
In the unlikely event that Nicklas kicks something with purpose, it will burst immediately, making his lack of goals totally understandable.
You’ve seen what Mario Balotelli is prepared to wear on his head, so it can come as no surprise that his shoe collection contains some of the most ridiculous footwear available outside of a professional clown’s wardrobe.
It isn’t just footballers with odd ideas of what people should be wearing on their feet though. British fashion label Alexander McQueen have designed some limited edition Puma Kings, which come in two visually arresting silos:
...and The Big Jimmy Bullard Scaly Special. Lahvely!
But no round-up of harrowing footwear would be complete without Cristiano Ronaldo.
His crimes against shoes have been well documented but even we were startled by the latest entry to the CR7 Hall of Ostentation: the Mercurial Vapor IX special editions he was originally due to wear in the Copa del Rey Final, but ended up modelling during the CL semi vs. Bayern.
By Kelly Welles
Things in football that are not going to end well, Part 56
Ponte Preta’s innovative wall formation, constructed to defend a free kick against Paraná in their Copa do Brasil fixture.
It didn’t work, obviously. But that isn’t our main concern.
Someone is going to try it in the Premier League, get their head stamped on, and kick off a huge, entirely tedious debate about what is allowed on a football pitch and what isn’t.
It’s not often I say this, but thank heavens the season is almost over.
By Kelly Welles
Lovely old H/T to 101greatgoals.
BBC World Cup pundits announced to rapturous approval!
The BBC have taken the unprecedented step of announcing an entirely new punditry team for their coverage of the Brazil World Cup.
Ill-advised observations, inflammatory comments based upon shoddy research and the pun as a weapon of mass destruction are rendered relics of the past as we embrace a new era in football coverage, spearheaded by our very own Marcus C. Speller and his team of…
[What? What d’you mean that’s the wrong picture? Where’s the right picture? Oh, for f**k’s sake. Really?]
We can but fantasise, Ramblers. Sigh.
By Kelly Welles
Image via Twitter.
AC Milan: Three stripes or you’re out
So the wrath of West Brom fans was not sufficient to deter adidas from fiddling with the width of more iconic stripes.
Last week, their redesigned Baggies shirt, featuring blue pinstripes instead of the traditional blue & white stripy combo, was released to an unimpressed fanbase - most of whom then rejected it in vast numbers via newspaper survey.
This week, another iconic shirt design has dropped, and adidas want to pray that the response is a little more positive.
The 2014/15 AC Milan blouse boasts a variation in the width and tone of the classic red and black for the first time in the club’s history, while the simultaneously issued green and yellow third kit is a tribute to the special relationship the club shares with Brazil.
What will the notoriously reasonable Milan Ultras make of this “perfect link between tradition and innovation”? Let’s hope they like it. If they don’t, they’re unlikely to limit their disapproval to a survey in the Milan equivalent of the West Midlands Express & Star.
By Kelly Welles
Images via adidas.
Wilfried Zaha: In danger of overexposure
Think this looks funny? Well stop your laughing right now, you medically under-educated fool.
This garment has been invented to prevent serious groin injuries occurring while sportsmen ply their trade. As the captions helpfully indicate, Gilmore’s Support Shorts offer protection from groin disruption, inguinal disruption and Athletic Pubalgia, all of which sound absolutely horrifying.
But that’s not all. Apparently, by exercising, all you chaps are running a risk of Pubic Symphysis blockage. We’re not going to go into the details, but it’s severe enough to prompt certain players to take serious, evasive action.
Allow Wilfried to demonstrate.
Good god, it’s like Paul Scholes’ ginger ninja, isn’t it? You can’t unsee it.
By Kelly Welles
Images via facebook, gilmoresupportshorts.co.uk.
Weekend Results: Inconsistency is our byword
Having heard that it was to be an unusually clement Bank Holiday weekend, football ensured that we weren’t drawn out into the garden and away from the TV (or at least a cheeky earphone on the radio) by our impatient, long suffering families quite yet.
The Prem has another week to shake down, so the majority of the mayhem was confined to the lower leagues, where Birmingham City escaped relegation via a series of improbable events, Doncaster Rovers suffered the consequences, and a Bristol Rovers fan renounced football in favour of devoting his life to the work of Grace Jones.
Birmingham City needed a draw against Bolton plus results to go their way to stay in the Championship, but a club doesn’t get into that position in the first place if the breaks all go their way and after seventy-five minutes Lee Clark’s team were 2-0 down and despite Doncaster losing at Leicester (you had your money on him scoring, right?) were effectively relegated.
But goals from Nikola Žigić and a 90th minute equaliser from Paul Caddis were enough to send Lee Clark haring down the touchline like a slightly less self-aware Mourinho, while over at the King Power David Nugent proved himself to be The Difference once again. Sadly it was between survival for Doncaster and League One football next season so it’s unlikely they’ll be appreciating the hashtag hilarity that will invariably ensue.
Upstairs, Liverpool shipping three goals in nine minutes at Selhurst Park, Manchester City beating Everton 3-2 despite an absolute screamer from Ross ‘I didn’t realise Hodgson was here’ Barkley and Chelsea bumbling to a 0-0 draw with Norwich City all conspired to hand City the initiative, while simultaneously confirming that practically anyone can still win it because prediction and punditry aren’t worth the papers they’re written in.
The same cannot be said for Fulham and Cardiff, who were finally put out of their bottom feeding misery by Stoke City and Newcastle United respectively. The timing of Newcastle’s first win in six games was particularly ironic for those Newcastle fans who chose to walk out on sixty-nine minutes, but at least they didn’t have to look at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sad face.
Finally, let’s head to Spain, where having watched Gareth Bale score an epic goal in the Copa del Rey final, it was only a matter of time before Cristiano pulled off something equally incredible to restore the Galactico balance. His backheeled goal was only an equaliser for Real Madrid, who like Barcelona and Atletico Madrid were unable to beat their respective opposition, so the title race remains open (ish).
Obviously Zlatan was too busy banging on about how PSG *could* have won the Champion League to comment on the Second Best Player In The World’s appropriation of what is a trademarked Zlatan move.
A rare burst of consistency in an otherwise madcap weekend, eh? We can always rely on the big man.
By Kelly Welles
BREAKING: Manchester United make shock managerial appointment!
Pele & El Diego: Now trolling each other online?
Pele’s visit to Miami this week provided us with the usual array of quotable quotes and subtle hints that he was at least partly responsible for the explosion of interest in the beautiful game in the good old US of A.
“The people don’t remember,” he said, probably crossing his legs and allowing his velvet smoking jacket to fall open. “But when I arrived here soccer was good between the children. But today soccer is at the same level as Europe. The last two World Cups, the national team almost qualified for the semifinal.”
Sadly, his enthusiasm doesn’t appear to be reflected in the response to Fox Sports’ fine coverage of the do. A quick scroll down the page reveals just one commenter. This guy.
El Diego? Is that you?
By Kelly Welles
Images via Instagram.
Champions League: Balls to the wall
Perhaps Louis van Gaal was right after all. Perhaps it isn’t tactical master classes, stoic catenaccio, tiki-taka or possession football that wins games, as implied by the Guardiola era.
An era that, to all intents and purposes, was murdered by Real Madrid on Tuesday night.
Perhaps it’s big balls.
Luca Toni famously described horrifying scenes in the Bayern Munich dressing room during van Gaal’s tenure, when the famously hot headed Dutchman dropped his trousers to prove he had the balls to leave out any of Bayern’s big name players, should he so wish.
At the time, we all dismissed it as the behaviour of a notoriously difficult, slightly mental bloke with a flair for amateur dramatics, but since Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone thanked his players’ mothers for producing boys with “balls that big” after they dismissed Chelsea from the Champions League semi-final last night, we’ve been forced to review van Gaal’s shock-and-eurgh approach
If he does take over at Old Trafford, bringing his brand of testicular based bullying with him, it might turn out to be an unexpected reprieve for Jose Mourinho. According to many neutrals, the Chelsea man’s brand of footie is, at best, difficult to watch.
We haven’t seen them, but we’d be prepared to bet our collective cojones on it being easier on the eye than the contents of Louis van Gaal’s underpants.
By Kelly Welles
Ayrton Senna: A (snugly) fitting tribute
Today is the twentieth anniversary of the death of Ayrton Senna - a date likely to prompt a moment’s pause from anyone who was vaguely aware of the man and his contribution to motor racing.
Like Senna himself, the gesture was class personified. Gorgeous.
By Kelly Welles
Image via @BBCSporf.
Ramble Q&A: Joey Barton
In this outtake from a quiz with QPR teammate Charlie Austin, does Joey Barton show himself to be:
A) An exacting, articulate man as demanding of his peers as he is of himself, or;
B) a petulant, pompous pedant whose ego only remains afloat because it is supported by his similarly corpulent, artificially inflated sense of self-belief?
CLUE: If you can’t bear to watch it in full, go to 4:40. That should resolve it.
By Kelly Welles
Spotted on 101greatgoals.
Banana-gate: A worthy ruse?
Reports are circulating the interwebs that Dani Alves’ banana consumption during Barcelona’s 3-2 win against Villarreal on Sunday was not, as we thought, an impromptu two fingers to racism but a carefully planned marketing strategy.
Spanish newspaper AS reports that both Alves and Barca colleague Neymar agreed to make the gesture at the next available opportunity when contacted by a marketing company after both suffered racial abuse at Espanyol. Alves’ gesture has prompted a huge backlash against racism across social media, with players posing with bananas and tagging their pictures #weareallmonkeys.
A partner in advertising agency Loducca told AS:
“Actions speak louder than words. A gesture needs no translation and what we’re seeing is that this has gone viral, globally.
The idea was for Neymar to eat the banana, but in the end it was Alves, and that works just the same.”
While we’re always annoyed to have been manipulated by marketers, football’s governing bodies have wilfully failed to acknowledge the problem of racism in football in any meaningful way. For a long time, many of us have felt that players would be forced to tackle the issue themselves, but sadly, without the support of FIFA, acts of defiance like Kevin Prince-Boateng’s walk have failed to make a significant impact. Players like Alves and Neymar have shown a desire to speak out, and the fact that they required a little organisation from outside to do so shouldn’t detract from the impact of the gesture. People now have a simple way to publicly articulate their stance against racism and are doing so.
Let’s focus on that positive. As far as racism in football is concerned, we don’t get the opportunity that often.
By Kelly Welles
Images via Twitter.
Lost at sea with a footballer, y’say?
Here’s a video of Rene Higuita when he appeared on Colombian gameshow La Isla los Famosos. He’s basically chewing a fish out of a net.
I’m not experienced in nautical matters, but that has to be more useful than really wanting to meet David Seaman, being called Mark Fish or not being called Danny Calamari, surely?
To put it simply, I’m having the points.
By Kelly Welles
A Footballer’s Guide to Social Networking
We weren’t that surprised when this popped up on our Twitter feed, courtesy of @emiljohansson.
It’s obviously insane, but Zlatan’s reputation for using insanity as a weapon/profile enhancement tool is well known and lauded among certain sections of the football press. Mainly us.
A brief tour of Zlatan_Unplugged (which appears to be genuine, but for the purposes of this post we neither know, nor care) it’s clear the Swede embraces this, otherwise he would most definitely avoid posting images to confirm our suspicions that:
A) if football hadn’t worked out, a moribund career as a catalogue model beckoned
and B) his ‘preferences’ may or may not include what appear to be thoroughly unnatural practices.
Unlike Columbus Crew’s Dominic Oduro , who by posting this picture of himself with a pizza slice shaved into the side of his head, simply provided visual evidence that his head is built of little more than hot, melted cheese and meat from an untrustworthy source.
That’s why not, you buffoon.
By Kelly Welles
Brendan Rodgers & the Machiavellian Omnibus of Doom
You remember that bit from Raiders of the Lost Ark when the chap in the fancy outfit offers our hero a lesson in swordsmanship, only to be shot by as unimpressed an archaeologist in a hat as you’re likely to see?
Course you do. You wouldn’t be reading this if you were a fool.
Liverpool vs. Chelsea was like that. Having spent most of the season beguiling the neutrals with their flamboyant, proactive football, Liverpool yesterday found themselves neutered by Chelsea’s relentless marking and pressure on the ball. Brendan Rodgers can complain all he likes about Jose Mourinho parking the bus and encouraging his players to timewaste, but the truth is, he’s missed the point by a country mile.
Mourinho is an astute coach who drills his team to concentrate for ninety minutes because he knows that eventually, the opposition will make a mistake. It’s no accident that both Chelsea goals came by way of errors, but even the Machiavellian Portuguese couldn’t have foreseen that the first would be the result of a catastrophic slip by Liverpool’s talismanic midfielder, given the history between the two. He didn’t need to. He simply knew when that inevitable mistake arrived, at whatever point in the game, the man closest to it would need to be ready to take advantage. Ba was, and so were Willian & Torres.
Instead of moaning about it and annoying everyone who’s been admiring his brand of attacking football this season, Rodgers should be more pragmatic.
Like Zlatan was when he got megged by Aurelien Chedjou during Lille’s game vs. PSG back in January.
Obviously he’s going hunt Chedjou down with a Bowie knife when the season finishes, but y’know. There’s a dignity involved in being seen to accept a pounding occasionally.
Speaking of dignity, does anyone know this Stourbridge fan? He borrowed Pete’s suit and we’re going to be needing it for the live show.
Answers on a postcard to the usual address, please.
By Kelly Welles
H/T @Danny_Loo, Beautiful Soccer Goals.
Dani Alves: If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em
Dani Alves is the type of man you shouldn’t chuck stuff at.
The heroic fruit distribution agent in this case should be grateful Alves missed lunch. If he hadn’t, the chap would almost certainly waking up in casualty this morning, after an emergency operation to remove a banana from his colon.
We’d never advocate violence on a public forum. But y’know. We can’t help but feel the latter outcome might have been even more satisfying to watch.
By Kelly Welles
Nike Innovation Summit: Initial thoughts
Cutting edge innovation by a manufacturer at the vanguard of footwear development and buzz creation or the Boot Porn equivalent of dogging in a wood?
Depends whether they send us any freebies, I guess.
By Kelly Welles
Image via facebook.
Steve McNulty & The Ramble Forum: The Scales of Justice
‘When Footballers Get Fat’ is a typical Football Ramble Forum thread. Started by Sadface a mere thirty-six hours ago, it is academic in function - examining the trend for football players to gain weight after their playing career is over, using photography as its principle medium.
Already, the likes Alan Brazil, Micky Quinn and Neil Shipperley have been cited as examples of this phenomenon, but it’s only when attention turns to Luton’s Player of the Season, Steve McNulty, that the true nature of the Rambler is revealed.
Unlike most of the examples on the list, Steve McNulty still plays, but like Ade Akinfenwa, somehow manages to do so while apparently consuming enough food to sustain an army unit on extended manoeuvres.
But as arbiters of fairness and truth the Ramble Forum-ites would not ask whether a man had genuinely won the Player of the Year award or simply eaten it to prevent anyone else getting hold of it, without drawing attention to his talents too.
So after laughing for several minutes at photos of a man rising into the sky like an air balloon, check out this video of McNulty smashing an absolute screamer into the net, posted by Joe Totale.
Balance people. It’s all about balance. And cake.
By Kelly Welles
Images via burndenaces.
Who you gonna call? GHOSTRAMBLERS!
This footage of a ‘ghost’ in the Estadio Hernando Siles, taken during a Copa Libertadores game between our new favourite Bolivian team, The Strongest, and Defensor, has had everyone scratching their heads.
Was the shadowy figure caught by a Fox Sports camera as it raced through the stand and inexplicably passed straight through a fence before disappearing, a ghost? An unruly Defensor spirit displeased with his team’s recent run of poor form? The recently relocated Loch Ness monster? David Moyes?
No. According to Bolivian news site eju.tv, it was nothing more than a bloke sneaking into the game at speed via an door someone had carelessly left open and the fence he appears to dissolve through is actually a step.
Done. Remember, kids, If there’s something weird and it don’t look good… it’s almost certainly us on the way to a terrible fancy dress party.
By Kelly Welles
The best kept secret in football
We’re not all sexist, racist, homophobic hooligans wearing our lack of education and devotion to cheap lager as a badge of honour.
In fact, you might be surprised to learn that many of us are generous, kind, intelligent and we go to games to enjoy ourselves. For many of us, our clubs are communities and if we can help someone, or fulfil a dream, we will move heaven and earth to do it.
Like these Sheffield Wednesday fans, who responded to an online shoutout from Chris Eales that his terminally-ill father Jonny would be attending the game vs. Charlton on Monday, by singing the big man a song.
Lovely bit of work, you Owls.
By Kelly Welles
Image via owlstalk. H/T 101greatgoals.
Champions League: The Method
Having spent most of his career performing in a series of roles he cast himself, Jose Mourinho found himself in something of a quandary last night.
‘The Special One’ would be a bit of a stretch given Chelsea’s recent form and the debris he reportedly left behind him in the Real Madrid dressing room, ‘the Humble One’ a touch inappropriate for a Champions League semi-finalist and ‘The Mentalist’ totally inadvisable when up against Diego Pablo Simeone - a man so hard, he can wear a hipster undercut at the age of forty-three and be totally confident no one will take the piss.
As it was, Jose ended up looking a bit lost. He strolled the touchline nonchalantly, hands in pockets, occasionally wandering out of his technical area and onto the edge of the pitch in a vaguely threatening manner but mostly dropping to his haunches and peering into the dugout as though he had a fondue on the go.
Fortunately, his team were more focussed and while all the pre-match attention had been on the notoriously miserly Atletico defence, it was the central partnership of John Terry & Gary Cahill that impressed, reducing Diego Costa to a bit part role and limiting the impact of the more lively Raul Garcia.
That’s not to say that Chelsea’s forward line was any better. The Gods of Football temporarily vacated Anfield for a minibreak at the Vicente Calderón, where they amused themselves by taunting Fernando Torres with the prospect of an heroic performance in front of his hometown crowd, then ensuring he spent most of the game on his back.
Given the ‘difficulties’ surrounding Thibaut Courtois’ inclusion in the Atletico side, some might say Petr Cech’s injury, which reportedly puts him out for the rest of the season was ironic too, although that depends on your perspective.
Don’t be too quick to laugh though, neutrals. Remember a few weeks ago when I hilariously touted the possibility that Mou had a planned all this, that Chelsea would get through the semis, face Real Madrid in the final and win on penalties, humiliating Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas terribly in the process? Well, it appears I missed one vital element of this fantasy scenario - namely John Terry not playing in the final and then bravely appearing with the trophy in his kit and shinnies.
The Gods didn’t though, did they?
By Kelly Welles
Bets were being wagered across the Football Ramble social networks this morning as to how long it would take esteemed presenter Marcus C. Speller to mention a certain balding smoothie in conjunction with the recent vacation of a high profile managerial post on tonight’s pod. The estimates varied wildly, some of you demonstrating a quite staggering lack of faith (less than a minute) while others appeared to be working on the assumption that the boys would take measures to silence him (20mins 42secs).
In all, it was just a bit of bants. Until Lineker weighed in with the above tweet.
What you’ve done, Gary, is given official sporting endorsement to a man who genuinely believes that Darius Vassell should still have a starting berth in the England set-up.
You’re ruined for us now. We’re taking off our tribute bandages and everything.
By Kelly Welles
David Moyes: Have you seen this man?
Midweek Results: A boy named Bale
He killed Barcelona.
They were already stunned - injuries and formation changes having dulled the tiki-taka sharpness, off-field pressures adding stress to otherwise straightforward squad augmentation - but he wasn’t swayed by their sudden vulnerability.
With the same speed and precision that left many a Premier League defence on its knees, Gareth Bale last night slit open the all-conquering Catalans and left them gasping for breath on their backs, their once impenetrable armour pierced by a pointing finger, a knock-on, a brief detour into the technical area and a turn of pace that left the not exactly slow out of the traps Marc Bartra in a befuddled heap.
Gus Poyet. A bit batty?
Back in auld Blighty, The Engineer’s plans for an inaugural title win suffered an unpleasant staining courtesy of an increasingly unstable Sunderland. No one was more surprised by the Connor Wickham-inspired 2-2 draw at the Etihad than Gus Poyet, who later claimed that football was trying to kill him.
Someone should check his office. It’s very possible Paulo Di Canio left some sort of madness diffuser in a light fitting and is sat in a dormant volcano hideaway somewhere in the Pacific, stroking a cat and laughing uncontrollably.
Tony Pulis and his informal cap.
Liverpool fans had their misty third eye squeegeed clean last night, as Crystal Palace categorically stated their unwillingness to doff their cap to the Scouse fairytale. Everton’s ambitions of finishing fourth and qualifying Champions League football next season undoubtedly form part of an unlikely and unifying double for the city, but a 2-3 defeat simultaneously handed Arsenal the initiative and the Reds an answer to the question, will Pulis’s men ease off now they’re safe?
This is almost certainly the first and last time that Tony Pulis and Jose Mourinho share a common purpose. Enjoy it.
By Kelly Welles
FIFA: Making grown men cry. Again
Only FIFA would be complacent enough to imagine that gluing a bit of discarded dire wolf hair to Zico’s top lip would prevent one of his biggest fans from identifying him.
Still, inviting a Brazil 2014 volunteer to the Maracanã and having Zico present him with his uniform is a nice touch.
If they weren’t such a stand-up bunch of fellas, we’d think they were trying to distract us from something...
By Kelly Welles
Image via facebook.
Copa del Rey Final Trailer: Bywater-esque
To a soundtrack evocative of the parps and farts that a cyber goth band might emit as they get to grips with their Korg squelch function, Gareth Bale and Dani Alves strap their boots on and smash footballs at liveried bags of paint someone happened to conveniently leave in a warehouse.
This is almost Bywater-ian in it’s abstraction and execution, no?
By Kelly Welles
Icardi vs. Lopez: Notes on a Scandal
Football is in a rare vein of form right now. There’s an exciting title run-in, managerial meltdowns are occurring in the most unusual places and perhaps most importantly, we’re not being forced to suffer the indignity of our media being more interested in its representatives’ sex organs being in or around people other than their official partners.
Over in Italy, where emotion runs free to the point that grown men hide in hedges dressed in commando gear to spy on their upcoming opponent’s tactics, they cannot say the same.
Mauro Icardi, Wanda Nara & Maxi Lopez in ‘happier’ times.
Calcio experienced its own version of Handshake-gate on Sunday when Sampdoria faced Inter in a game that, due to a series of ill-advised and in some cases, quite tasteless, social media messages, became known via the press as the “Wanda Derby.”
The Ramble has been stretching the parameters of what can be called a derby for some years now, but as far as I’m aware, a game on English soil has never been fiercely contested because one guy nurtured another through his formative years at a club and was repaid by The Protégé getting involved with his ex and flaunting it by posting photos of himself with Betrayed Hubby’s kids on Twitter.
Not unreasonably, when the time came for Sampdoria’s Maxi Lopez to “show respect” to 21-year-old Mauro Icardi in football’s universally imposed manner, he declined, but the humiliation wasn’t to end there. Icardi, whose dignified behaviour was almost certainly one of the factors that drew Lopez’ former wife Wanda Nara into his sphere of influence, scored, then proceeded to cup his ear in front of the Sampdoria Ultras. He was booked, but although technically correct, it’s probably not the retribution Lopez was hoping for, especially since he had a penalty saved during the game. Sampdoria lost 4-0.
If you want all the juice, Paulo Bandini has written a gloriously detailed account for the Guardian. If you’re not interested in what footballers get up to off the pitch I would first ask you why you’re still reading this, and secondly to be grateful for small mercies.
In a World Cup year, this is the kind of disruptive crap we English usually have to deal with. It looks like Italy and Argentina are taking the hit for us this time.
If we win, let’s say we call it quits on the old Hand of God thing, yeah?
By Kelly Welles
Andrea Pirlo: Say what?!
This is a photo of an extract from Andrea Pirlo’s autobiography, released today.
In one short paragraph, he manages to insult the French, relate his position as he prepared to take his penalty in the World Cup final to that of the everyday Italian businessman and a prostitute and assert his national pride.
Oh, and render the argument that English footballers don’t need to be articulate because they’re good at football completely and utterly redundant.
By Kelly Welles
Image via Twitter.
Weekend Highlights: It’s been emotional
They didn’t exactly hurdle it with aplomb, but as Liverpool battered their way through the barrier to their title winning aspirations that was a similarly driven Manchester City side, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel the romance of it all.
Of course, this is England, and while many neutrals allowed themselves to succumb to a captain’s tears and the notion of a trophy being a fitting tribute to ninety-six people who never lived to see the fallow years, a few find a strange pleasure in being seen to drop their trousers and piss all over the bonfire.
Some were fun; Sky’s attempt to be the first broadcaster to have an interviewer punched in the face by an athlete in a post-match interview being thwarted by Steven Gerrard’s professionalism being one, but others, like those people who left tyre marks in their haste to share their disdain for the team and captain across their social networks were genuinely baffling.
Hate Liverpool if you want. It’s a free country and fierce rivalries are a big part of what makes our game what it is. But another part of rivalry is respect and if you can’t even bring yourself to keep your mouth shut when events conspire towards one of those otherworldly moments of magic that drew us to football in the first place, you should probably find better things to do with your Saturday afternoons. Hanging round shopping arcades telling three-year-olds that Santa is a capitalist construction designed specifically to elicit money from hard-working parents, for example.
It’s worth it just to see their faces crumble, yo.
And while we’re on the subject of magic, the FA Cup has misplaced its quota and the hunt is on to recapture it.
Heading up the search party is BBC 606, who recently charged their merry band of listeners with the task of locating said magic, with the promise that the best leads would be presented to FA Chairman Greg Dyke.
Everyone was having a brilliant time until Greg turned up and pointed out that while offering a Champions League spot to the winner of the trophy was the best way to make the competition more exciting, the FA is not in charge of world, or indeed, European football and can’t make those decisions. He even went as far as to claim that other countries have cup competitions, a rumour that we have been unable to confirm at the time of writing.
Luckily Darren Fletcher was on hand to advise him that even if they do, they’re definitely not as good as the FA Cup. As of today, “The Magic” remains at large and should not be approached.
It may well be armed.
By Kelly Welles
Joseph Minala: We really should have seen this coming
You remember in February when Lazio were forced to dispute allegations that their seventeen-year-old Cameroonian midfielder Joseph Minala was actually forty-one?
The glorious moment when his agent dismissed claims that he looked significantly older by stating “Joseph had a difficult childhood, that’s the issue.”?
We should have known then that the story wouldn’t end there. We should have thought about how whacked out the world of football is, checked the schedules and slammed a stack of money on Lazio winning the Italian Youth Cup (Coppa Italia Primavera) with Minala to score.
Because they have, and he did, goddammit.
By Kelly Welles
UEFA Champions League: A brief moment of clarity
Amidst speculation that Thibaut Courtois will be ineligible to play against his parent club in their Champions League semi-final, UEFA have taken the surprisingly decisive step of issuing a statement of integrity.
Courtois, who has played a big old part in Atletico Madrid’s ridiculously successful season, was rumoured to be subject to a clause in the loan contract between Atleti and Chelsea that would have prevented him from playing against the Blues, unless a substantial fee was paid by the Spanish club.
According to UEFA’s statement, issued this morning, any “such provision in a private contract between clubs which might function in such a way as to influence who a club fields in a match is null, void and unenforceable so far as UEFA is concerned.
If you think this sounds a bit efficient for a football governing body, don’t panic. According to Sid Lowe, UEFA stated yesterday that “rules do not say anything about loans and that therefore any agreement Chelsea-Atletico would stand.”
The semi-finals, Chelsea vs. Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich will be played on 22/23 April and 29/30 April. God knows what’ll happen between then and now.
By Kelly Welles
Spurs: They’ve done what now?
The Chaaaarrrrmpions. League.
Bayern Munich 3-1 Manchester United (agg 4-2)
Ed Woodward. Haunting.
These days, is it realistic to assume that any top, top footballer would choose to go to a club who have not qualified for Champions League football? David Moyes seems to think so, but having watched his side crash out of the competition last night, and with little prospect of qualification via the Prem, it’s a theory that’s going to be tested over the summer and we can’t wait. With the catastrophe that was last summer’s transfer window at the forefront of their minds, United seem to be keen to avoid last minute deals (known in football circles as the ‘Fellaini’) and reportedly left Vice Chairman Ed Woodward in Munich last night to sell the move to Bayern midfielder Toni Kroos.
You can see their reasoning. That, people, is one persuasive face, particularly if it’s pressed against the outside of your hotel window while you try to sleep.
Chelsea 2-0 Paris St Germain (agg 3-3, Chelsea through on away goals)
Thank god we can rely on Chelsea. Aside from the sporadic outbreaks of manlove, the manager haring up the touchline like a lunatic and a 6ft 4in man beast creeping up behind him during a post-match interview to give him a cuddle, the Blues were totally calm and professional in overturning of the 3-1 deficit they collected from the Parc des Princes and are the only English side representin’ in Friday’s draw.
We had a nasty feeling Mourinho was planning something. If it’s masterminding Chelsea to a Champions League final against Real Madrid which they then win, probably on pens, humiliating Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos to the point where they have to quit football, we’re not playing any more. It’s so not fair.
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona (agg 2-1)
Jose Pinto IS The Running Man.
Atletico Madrid put on a storming performance to show Barcelona the exit last night - the Catalan club’s earliest departure from the competition since 2007. Koke scored the decisive goal in the first half, but eschewed other chances to put the tie to bed. Barcelona dominated possession as they are wont to do, a mighty 71% overall, but the standout stat of the night had to be Lionel Messi only running 1.4km more than his goalkeeper Pinto last night.
Borussia Dortmund 2-0 Real Madrid (agg 2-3)
Jurgen Klopp has no idea how far his players ran in their 2-0 victory against Real Madrid, but described their performance as“a template for other teams chasing big deficits.”. Despite two first half goals from Marco Reus and Angel Di Maria missing a penalty, Madrid were able to hang on to the tie thanks to a 3-0 win in the first leg. Cristiano Ronaldo’s contribution was limited to giving us a glimpse of what the most coiffed manager in football would look like and a really stupid hat.
Who knew?! He’s always been such a sartorially gifted chap.
By Kelly Welles
Images via getty.
Michael Jackson: On the road again…
It brought joy to tens of people and utter bewilderment to thousands of others. Complaints about it prompted the club owner to tell people who didn’t like it to “go to hell”.
It caused a row between two men that culminated in one wearing a false moustache and threatening to shave the other’s lip fringe off.
It was eventually manhandled off it’s plinth by a bunch of chaps in hi vis vests and has spent the last few months alone in a warehouse.
Given it’s role in Fulham’s recent history, we can’t think of a better place to park the Michael Jackson statue than outside the National Football Museum, can you?
By Kelly Welles
John O’Shea: Capturing the mood of a nation
Championship vs. Premier League: What’s #TheDifference?
Weekend Highlights: Turns out, it was all a dream
We’re having an existential crisis. Perhaps it’s the rollercoaster of the run-in addling our brains, but several things have happened this weekend that have made us question whether we are actually conscious or we’re fantasising and will wake up with saliva running down our faces and Sir Alex squeezing yet another title out of an unremarkable side.
It really comes to something when you yearn for that kind of normality.
“The Table Is Fake”
Let’s start with the latest missive from the man who’s turned mentalism into an artform when the pressure starts to bear. On the Jose scale, Mou’s claim that the table is “fake” is more finger in an eye than manager in a laundry basket mentalist than we like to see from a man who has already proven himself to be a great manager, without the need for a sense of entitlement and petulance to pervade his every utterance.
Mind games have officially jumped the shark, Jose, but we have a way to augment your strikeforce AND bring the doubters to heel. Play yourself upfront. You know you’re dying to and it would certainly make Chelsea games more enticing for the neutral.
The Football League Owner’s and Director’s Test
Don’t bother telling him. He already knows.
Massimo Cellino now has the right to buy a seventy-five percent share in Leeds United, despite being found guilty of tax evasion in his home country. His application was originally blocked as it was believed he was “subject to a disqualifying qualification” in the Football League’s Owners & Director’s Test but this ruling has been overturned by an independent QC on appeal.
Intially we couldn’t understand this but then we read the Football League’s Owner’s & Director’s Test section entitled “How do we find out if someone is disqualified?” and it’s weaknesses as an enforcement tool became abundantly clear.
We could write interpretations of this Eredivisie event for days, but let us just direct you to 0:14 in the video.
Says. It. All.
Steve Bruce Masks
Are you in need of further confirmation that all this is some mad, sinister League of Gentlemen-esque perversion of reality?
There. Hull City are selling Steve Bruce masks in their club shop and people are buying them and wearing them. No one in their right mind would choose to look like Steve Bruce.
Not even Steve Bruce, if his response to the hilarity on 606 was any indication.
We’re going back to sleep. Assuming we can get that nightmarish vision out of our minds.
By Kelly Welles
Images via twitter.